Terry Chatkupt Revisits His Parents’ Past

20 May

First & Central’s celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month continues, as we spotlight diverse, Los Angeles–based Asian-American artists who deal with themes of history, language, and identity in their work.

Terry Chatkupt, Post, 2011, HD digital video.

Terry Chatkupt, still from Post, 2011, HD digital video.

 

Thai-American artist Terry Chatkupt makes highly visual and evocative video works, often reveling in landscapes and their effects on individual psyches. Abstract pieces like Wayfinding and Post traverse iconic sites like the Los Angeles River and Southern California’s freeway interchanges, setting them into motion like extended dreams. Videos with narratives like Haunt, Lost and Found, and Transferase are also firmly embedded into specific landscapes, whose mysterious qualities help the artist tell psychologically loaded stories.

Early in his career, Chatkupt made several works that explored his family’s immigrant history. Among these is the short 2007 video Untitled (Conversation), featured below. In it, a slideshow of vintage photographs taken by his parents shortly after they immigrated to the Midwestern United States is accompanied by a recorded telephone conversation between Chatkupt and his father. Chatkupt asks his father about the Vietnam War and how it informed their decision to settle in Missouri in the early 1970s.

Untitled (Conversation) from Terry Chatkupt on Vimeo.

The images we see are of a young Thai couple and their child, adrift in a new environment that is no doubt markedly different from their native country. Chatkupt’s mother is often seen standing alone in the midst of a stark plain or plaza, dressed in the styles of another era. Meanwhile, his father’s description of the spotty nature of government communications regarding the war heightens the sense of displacement evoked by the photographs. The anxiety of the historical events that he talks about adds a certain tension to the anticipatory faces of the young couple, even as they attend eagerly to their new baby and their new lives.

Explore more of Chatkupt’s work—which also includes photography, installation, and public projects—on his website or on his Vimeo page.

Mountain Brothers Broke New Ground for Asian Americans in Hip Hop

13 May

The Mountain Brothers (Peril-L, CHOPS, Styles)

The Mountain Brothers (Peril-L, CHOPS, Styles)

 

Most people I know of Asian descent who came of age in the 1990s have a deep appreciation for hip hop music. One of the most visible examples of this is chef and iconoclast Eddie Huang, whose boyhood is the subject of the hit ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat.

Based on his bestselling autobiography of the same name, the sitcom repeatedly emphasizes young Eddie’s identification with hip hop as empowering music for outsiders. As Huang’s generation came of age, they began making music of their own, and today, there are many successful Asian American hip hop acts.

Back in the early ’90s, however, it wasn’t so easy for musicians of Asian descent to gain acceptance in the field. The hip hop genre was heavily coded as African American, and Asians were perceived as not fitting into the culture. Attempts to perform or compose beats were typically disparaged—by audiences, by music producers, and by industry executives.

In 1996, a trio of Chinese-American students at Penn State University entered a national singing contest sponsored by Sprite, and won. Their slick rhymes expressing their love for the soft drink wound up on the radio as a 60-second commercial. Executives at Ruffhouse Records—known for producing albums by The Fugees and Cypress Hill, among others—liked what they heard and approached the group for a deal.

Mountain SelfThe Mountain Brothers—CHOPS (Scott Jung), Peril-L (Christopher Wang), and Styles Infinite (Steve Wei)—named themselves after a group of noble bandits depicted in a classical Chinese novel. They soon became the first Asian American hip hop group to sign with a major label.

Unfortunately, the group’s path was a rocky one. The record label saw their ethnicity as a disadvantage, and even suggested that they satirize their heritage onstage by wearing karate outfits and playing a gong. Although their music was critically acclaimed, it was difficult for them to get gigs if they did not initially conceal their Asian identities. After releasing only two albums—Self: Volume 1 in 1999 and Triple Crown in 2003—the group disbanded.

Today, the Mountain Brothers are considered important pioneers who paved the way for the many Asian American hip hop acts who followed. Although two of the members have since left music to pursue other professions, CHOPS continues to have a successful career as a producer and composer, working with artists like Nicki Menaj and Kanye West.

On Thursday evening, May 14, JANM will present a rare panel discussion with all the original members of the Mountain Brothers, moderated by sociologist Oliver Wang. Come and learn more about the band’s history and what the members have been up to lately, and hear their views on the past and future of hip hop music. Tickets are still available here.

Listen to some of their classic tracks here.

Audrey Chan Deconstructs Chinatown’s History and Culture

7 May

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! To celebrate, First & Central will spend the next few weeks spotlighting works by diverse, Los Angeles–based Asian-American artists who deal with themes of history, language, and identity.

Audrey Chan, Chinatown Abecedario: A Folk Taxonomy of L.A.’s Chinatown (2012), HD video with voiceovers in English, Cantonese, Spanish, and Mandarin, TRT: 14 min.

Audrey Chan, Chinatown Abecedario: A Folk Taxonomy
of L.A.’s Chinatown
(2012), animation still.

 

To kick things off, we are pleased to present a video work by Audrey Chan, a Chinese-American artist and writer. Through playful animation and witty word play, Chinatown Abecedario (2012) sketches out what Chan calls a “folk taxonomy” of the old L.A. neighborhood, in which each letter of the alphabet inspires a miniature historical vignette:

Anna May Wong ate abalone with artists on Alameda.
The punk plucked pipa under the pagoda.
Utensils of an underclass utopia were unearthed from under Union Station.

These vignettes whimsically weave together the multifaceted elements that make up Chinatown’s history and character—early Hollywood stars, the first Asian American art gallery, the restaurant scene, the 1970s/80s punk rock scene, and the razing of the first Chinatown, located at the present-day site of Union Station. Through free association, they conjure a complex ecosystem that is sometimes at odds with itself. The words are recited in four of the most commonly spoken languages of L.A. (English, Cantonese, Spanish, and Mandarin), reflecting the many cultural influences that seep into any immigrant community.

Chinatown Abecedario: A Folk Taxonomy of L.A.’s Chinatown from Audrey Chan on Vimeo.

Chinatown Abecedario was commissioned by the Chinese American Museum as part of its 2012 group exhibition, (de)Constructing Chinatown. As curator Steve Wong wrote in the exhibition’s catalogue: “Chan’s perspective is influenced by Émile Durkheim and Claude Lévi-Strauss, who propose that the process of learning draws upon the knowledge and beliefs within a local culture, thereby creating a set of ideas that are passed on within a community.”

How Good Luck Saved The Curse of Quon Gwon

30 Apr

Scene from The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Violet Marion Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.

Scene from The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Violet Wong
Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.

 

On May 13, in honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, JANM will present The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West. This is the earliest known example of a film made by an Asian American. It is also one of the earliest films to be directed by a woman, Marion Wong. Wong involved her family in many aspects of the production, both in front of and behind the camera. Now nearly 100 years old, The Curse has seen better days. But the fact that it can be viewed at all by audiences today is a tale of good fortune.

Arthur Dong is an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker. Back in 2005, he was hard at work on a project titled Hollywood Chinese: The Chinese in American Feature Films. During the course of his research, Arthur learned of the existence of some reels of film from a title he had not previously heard of: The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West. Following his source’s instructions, Arthur went to a building near San Francisco International Airport. There he found two reels of original 35mm nitrate negative film—the actual film that was in the camera when the movie was made in 1916 and 1917—and a 16mm print that was likely made in the 1950s or 60s. This was an incredibly exciting find. “But scary!” recalls Arthur.

Violet Wong in The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Violet Marion Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.

Violet Wong in The Curse of Quon Gwon.
The Violet Wong Collection.
Courtesy of Arthur Dong.

Nitrate film was commonly used in the early days of moviemaking and up until about 1951. It is now understood to be highly unstable and extremely flammable. Proper storage and careful handling are required to maintain its integrity and prevent combustion. Nitrate burns at a temperature even higher than gasoline and once ignited, it is extremely difficult to extinguish because the combustion process produces its own oxygen. It also produces highly poisonous fumes.

Arthur knew the danger that nitrate posed. He contacted the Academy Film Archive, part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the organization that presents the annual Academy Awards). One of the archive’s intrepid experts agreed to drive up to San Francisco and bring The Curse back to Los Angeles for inspection and restoration. In addition to making safer film-based copies for long-term protection, the Academy Film Archive transferred all of the found material to video. (The original nitrate is now safely stored, as is the 16mm print.)

The two nitrate reels and some additional scenes depicted in the print are by no means the entire movie. Arthur and Academy archivists believe there were originally seven or eight reels; the ones found were numbered four and seven. So, what JANM will present is an incomplete movie. Despite this, one can easily follow at least some of the story, even though the film is silent and devoid of title cards. (The musical score is one that Arthur commissioned in 2010.) Regardless, the joy of seeing The Curse, which utilizes Chinese actors and Chinese interior décor, lies not in its plot but in its provenance. For Arthur, the film demonstrates “the contributions of Chinese Americans in the formative years of America’s film industry.”

Marion Wong and Violet Wong acting in a lost scene from The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Marion Wong Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.

Marion Wong and Violet Wong acting in a lost scene from The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Marion Wong Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.

 

Each year, the Librarian of Congress and its National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) select 25 films for the National Film Registry to showcase the range and diversity of American film heritage and to increase awareness of the need for preservation. There are currently 650 films on the registry, each deemed to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Thanks to Arthur’s nomination while serving on the NFPB, The Curse was placed on the registry in 2006.

Come see The Curse of Quon Gwon on May 13 and learn more about it from Arthur Dong and Mai-Lon Gittelsohn and Dr. Greg Mark, two descendants of Violet Wong, Marion Wong’s sister-in-law who stars as the film’s heroine.

Diary of a Nisei Week Princess: How It All Began

23 Apr

One of JANM’s own staff members, Events Assistant Camryn Sugita, has been selected as a candidate for the 2015 Nisei Week Court, representing the Gardena Evening Optimist (GEO) club. She has agreed to do a series of occasional blog posts about her experience, offering insight into the Nisei Week Court and what it means for the princesses and the community at large.

Mrs. Ito presents Nisei Week Queen Stella Nakadate with a card, California, September 7, 1955. Photo by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Collection Japanese American National Museum, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family.

Mrs. Ito presents Nisei Week Queen Stella Nakadate with a card, California, September 7, 1955. Photo by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Collection Japanese American National Museum, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family.

I always knew about Nisei Week growing up. As a Japanese American in Los Angeles, it was just one of those things you grew up going to. I remember seeing the Nisei Week Court featured in the Rafu Shimpo, sitting on a float in the parade, wearing beautiful dresses and crowns. I never thought that one day, I would be doing that.

I was working at JANM on a busy Saturday when I bumped into an old friend’s mom. She didn’t even recognize me at first. We chatted and caught up with one another, then toward the end of our conversation, she said, “You should apply for Nisei Week Court! You would be the perfect candidate!” The idea caught me so off guard that the only reaction I could come up with was to reject it. I kept saying, “I don’t know, I don’t think so,” but she wasn’t backing down. She insisted on putting me in touch with a former Nisei Week princess. By the end of the conversation, I was saying “I’ll think about it.”

And I really did think about it. All I knew about Nisei Week Court was what I remembered from childhood, so I did some research and spoke with two former Nisei Week princesses about their experiences. I discovered that being part of the court meant so much more than just sitting on a float in a beautiful dress; for 74 years, they have acted as representatives of the Los Angeles Japanese American community, helping to promote its image and build positive relationships worldwide. Members of the court receive training in public speaking, etiquette, and Japanese history and culture; they also have opportunities to travel to different cities, meeting all kinds of people and learning to be leaders of their community.

It quickly became apparent to me that becoming a Nisei Week princess is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as well as an extreme honor. I became really inspired and excited to apply for the position, and hoped that I would be able to get an interview.

Visual Communications Evolves with the Times

15 Apr

Founded in 1970, Visual Communications (VC) was the first nonprofit organization in the country dedicated to supporting the creation, presentation, and preservation of media works by Asian Pacific American people. On the eve of the 31st edition of their Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, taking place April 23–30, we checked in with Francis Cullado, VC’s Interim Executive Director, and Milton Liu, VC’s Director of Programs and Artist Services, about the state of Asian Pacific American media arts today.

Fresh Off the Boat panel at the 2014 Conference for Creative Content (C3), with with moderator Amy Hill (actor), Randall Park (star), Nahnatchka Khan (showrunner), Melvin Mar (executive producer), and Samie Kim Falvey (Executive Vice President, Comedy Development, ABC).

Fresh Off the Boat panel at the 2014 Conference for Creative Content (C3), with
moderator Amy Hill (actor), Randall Park (star), Nahnatchka Khan (showrunner), Melvin Mar (executive producer), and Samie Kim Falvey (Executive Vice President, Comedy Development, ABC). Photo courtesy Visual Communications.

 

JANM: The world of media arts has changed so much since 1970, and of course, VC has evolved along with it. What would you say are the most significant developments or changes that have occurred at VC in the last 10 years or so?

Francis Cullado: Widespread technological advances have empowered more people to become creative artists. At VC, we’ve developed our programs to utilize new technologies and processes to create digital stories. Gone are the days of expensive media, and with greater accessibility, we can create programs to capture and nurture digital storytellers.

Milton Liu: The media landscape has changed drastically in the last 10 years. Now, you can shoot a film on your iPhone and upload content directly to your YouTube/Vimeo page. Because of this, we’ve seen a surge of content that’s available through non-traditional channels, and a decrease in audiences for movie theaters and appointment television. For this reason, VC continues to focus on diverse year-round programs, such as the Armed with a Camera Fellowship for emerging artists and the Digital Histories program of short films created by senior citizens.

The Conference for Creative Content (C3), the premier entertainment media conference that happens as part of the annual festival, delves into a myriad of traditional and nontraditional topics with leading content creators and executives. For instance, past panels have included Sustaining Your Online Audience, Writing for Diverse Characters in TV, and Transitioning from Film to Video Games. Media continues to evolve and we understand the need for Visual Communications to remain at the forefront of this change.

Opening night at the 2014 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Photo courtesy Visual Communications.

Opening night at the 2014 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Photo courtesy Visual Communications.

 

JANM: APA visibility in the media seems to be growing steadily, getting a big boost recently with the hit TV show, Fresh Off the Boat. What do you think are the important next steps for the community in terms of building and maintaining media presence?

ML: The next steps for the community are to keep pressing to have APAs not only in front of the camera, but behind it. Furthermore, the percentage of APA actors, writers and directors in TV and film still doesn’t come close to matching the percentage of APAs in the American population. Keep fighting to have APAs represented! People of color make up huge audiences that spend our money on film and TV—speak with your wallet!

FC: Keep supporting APAs in media, and keep demanding more! To quote our fellow staffer Abraham Ferrer, for every production highlighting Asian Americans “that crows about diverse casting, there are at least 20 more in which people of color simply don’t exist.” The discourse that Fresh Off the Boat has created and will continue to create has many complexities that revolve around race, ethnicity, and culture, and that’s great. But just because we’ve progressed to a point that is different from where we started, it doesn’t mean that it’s where we want and/or need to be.

For more information about Visual Communications and the upcoming Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, please visit vconline.org.

Chester Hashizume Helps Japanese Americans Explore Their Roots

8 Apr

Chester Hashizume. Photo: Carol Cheh.

Chester Hashizume, longtime JANM volunteer and consultant

 

Twice a year, JANM offers a workshop called Discovering Your Japanese American Roots, a primer on amateur genealogy specifically geared toward Japanese American patrons. This workshop is JANM’s longest running; it’s been offered since 1992 by Chester Hashizume, a Sansei information technology project manager by profession and genealogy hobbyist.

Born in Illinois and raised in New Jersey, Hashizume’s interest in genealogy began at a family reunion, when one of his uncles shared the beginnings of a family tree. Resources to help Japanese Americans trace their roots were not readily available, and so Hashizume embarked on a personal journey of discovery. He was able to find some information, including immigration records, at a Mormon Family History Center and at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. His most valuable resource turned out to be his mother, who was fluent in Japanese and knew relatives back in the home country. Through her, Hashizume was able to meet family members and gain access to some elusive village records during trips to Japan.

Hashizume moved to Los Angeles in 1988. Seeking to connect with the local Japanese American community, he checked out a 1989 JANM-organized Nisei Week exhibit that featured internment camp records on microfilm. At that time, the museum was still in its infancy, organizing pop-up shows while working to secure a permanent facility. Fascinated by the historical information contained in those records, Hashizume signed up to volunteer with JANM the following year. When the museum opened its doors in 1992, Hashizume began offering his workshop.

Examples and explanation of kamon (Japanese family crests)

Examples and explanation of kamon (Japanese family crests)

 

“I was a Japanese American with no Japanese language skills and no knowledge of my own background,” Hashizume explains. “I wanted to help others like myself.” Having already gone through much of the process of researching his own background, he now wanted to share his findings with others. He found it rewarding to help others go through the same process of discovery that he did.

Hashizume supplies each workshop participant with a binder full of helpful information, including: the basics of constructing family trees, where and how to conduct preliminary research, the unique characteristics of Japanese genealogy, the meanings and origins of Japanese names and family crests, and how to do research in Japan. Hashizume even includes a simple koseki (household registry) request form, written in both Japanese and English, that people can mail or bring with them to present to government officials in Japan.

“You have to go back to Japan,” Hashizume stresses. “This is how you really do research.” Japan, which for much of its history was a feudal society, has no central archive; koseki are maintained by townships and are still, to this day, updated by hand. The language and cultural barriers may seem daunting, but overcoming them is well worth it; Hashizume’s own trips back to Hiroshima and Ishikawa (his maternal and paternal prefectures of origin, respectively) were life-changing.

Additional spaces have been added to this weekend’s edition of Discovering Your Japanese American Roots! Visit janm.org to register.

Fresh Off the Boat Viewing and Panel Discussion Attracts an Avid Crowd

2 Apr

FOB Panel small

JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum was packed full on Tuesday night for a special community viewing of the latest episode of the Asian-American sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. The episode featured a LGBTQ storyline, and the event drew many members of the Asian American media and LGBTQ communities. The viewing was followed by a panel discussion with writer and showrunner Nahnatchka Khan, guest actor Rex Lee, author/comedian D’Lo, and artist/organizer Erin O’Brien, moderated by filmmaker Curtis Chin. The event was organized by Jeff Yang, journalist and father of the show’s young star, Hudson Yang.

The episode, titled “Blind Spot,” kept everyone laughing. It revolved around a visit from mom Jessica Huang’s old college boyfriend, Oscar Chow. Jessica, oblivious to the fact that Oscar is now openly gay, wonders why her husband Louis feels absolutely no jealousy. Louis, for his part, is oblivious to the fact that the person Oscar really loved in college was him, not Jessica. Much hilarity ensues as the couple confronts one another about their respective “blind spots.”

L to R: Curtis Chin, Erin O'Brien, D'Lo, Rex Lee, Nahnatchka Khan. Photo: Richard Murakami.

L to R: Curtis Chin, Erin O’Brien, D’Lo, Rex Lee, Nahnatchka Khan.
Photo: Richard Murakami.

 

The panelists, who were all LGBTQ-identified, engaged in a lively and humorous discussion following the episode. Rex Lee, who played the character of Oscar Chow, said that his favorite thing about guest starring on this episode was getting to know the three child actors, who now send him tweets constantly. Erin O’Brien analyzed the gay subtext in Fresh Off the Boat and other popular shows, jokingly proclaiming that “everything has a gay subtext.” D’Lo, who has had roles on the LGBTQ-themed shows Looking and Transparent, expressed his preference for Fresh Off the Boat, which features people of color.

During the Q&A, one audience member called out the Oscar Chow character for being “stereotypically gay.” Lee responded that as a gay man himself, he felt he was able to play Oscar from the inside, rather than via external gestures. This drew applause from the audience, who for the most part seemed to appreciate a television show capable of showcasing both Asian and gay characters with light but intelligent humor. Audience members also approved of the show’s culturally authentic details, such as this episode’s reference to “white flower oil,” an herbal remedy commonly used by Chinese families.

Erin O'Brien makes an impassioned point. Photo: Richard Murakami.

Erin O’Brien makes an impassioned point. Photo: Richard Murakami.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists spoke most passionately about the hunger for media representation of LGBTQ people and people of color, pointing to the huge turnouts both for that night’s event and an earlier community viewing of the premiere episode of the show as evidence. It was noted that fans of the show comprise a highly diverse demographic that includes Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, and whites. O’Brien asserted, “We really want to see ourselves on TV. And as cultural producers, we have realized that we have to do this ourselves.”

Loud hisses came from the audience at the mention of a recent article on the Deadline website, which offended many by asking if diversity in casting had gone too far, reducing the available roles for whites. (The site has since apologized for the story.) “To see more people of color on the screen, how is this not a great thing?” asked Nahnatchka Khan. Later, when complimented by an Asian American man in the audience for a joke in the episode that alluded to Louis’ “big bones” and thus countered stereotypes of Asian men as under-endowed, Khan responded, “You just have to be committed to the message.”

To watch the complete panel discussion online, visit JANM’s YouTube channel.

Toyo Miyatake’s Camera Captured Japanese American History

24 Mar

Little Tokyo is filled with public art, from street murals to commemorative statues. JANM Development Assistant Esther Shin explores one of those works.

Toyo Miyatake's Camera, a public artwork by Nobuho Nagasawa. Photo: Esther Shin.

Toyo Miyatake’s Camera, a public artwork by Nobuho Nagasawa. Photo: Esther Shin.

 

Toyo Miyatake’s Camera, a bronze sculpture by artist Nobuho Nagasawa, stands just outside of JANM’s Historic Building. Made in 1993, it is an outsized replica of an actual camera that belonged to the Japanese American photographer. In the evening, the camera projects slides of Miyatake’s photography onto a window of the Historic Building.

Toyo Miyatake established a photo studio in Little Tokyo in 1923. He became known for his photographs documenting the early Japanese American community. During World War II, Miyatake was imprisoned at the Manzanar incarceration camp along with 10,000 other Japanese Americans. He had to leave behind his home and studio, but he managed to smuggle a camera lens into the camp and constructed a camera body from wood. With this camera he secretly documented the community’s daily life behind barbed wire; the photographs from this period have become important documents of this tragic episode in American history.

A well-known photograph taken by Toyo Miyatake at Manzanar concentration camp. Courtesy of Alan Miyatake, Toyo Miyatake Studio.

A well-known photograph by Toyo Miyatake, taken at Manzanar concentration camp. Courtesy Alan Miyatake, Toyo Miyatake Studio.

 

Nagasawa’s sculpture is my favorite public artwork in Little Tokyo. Although it is relatively small and modest, it speaks loudly and is rich in meaning. I see it as a symbol of remembrance, underscoring the importance of looking back and reflecting on what has happened in the Japanese American community—not only during the incarceration of U.S. citizens during WWII, but in the years before as well. I appreciate the fact that the images projected by the installation include darker moments from our history alongside special events and celebrations that were dear to the community before the war—such as the 1932 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and the Nisei Week parade of 1939—because all of these moments, bright or dark, are part of the Japanese American story.

It is fitting that the sculpture is located on the plaza of the museum, and faces the Historic Building. It stands on the spot of a former WWII reporting site, where hundreds of Japanese Americans boarded buses to be taken to incarceration camps. It is also located across the way from JANM’s Pavilion building, where the permanent exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community—which chronicles 130 years of Japanese American history—is displayed.

To explore more works of public art in Little Tokyo, sign up for JANM’s Edible Adventures: Public Art and the Sweets of Little Tokyo tour on March 28.

Pilgrimages to WWII American Concentration Camp Sites Starting in April

19 Mar

Entrance to Rohwer concentration camp. Photo: Richard Murakami.

Entrance to Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas. Photo: Richard Murakami.

 

During World War II, the U.S. government forcibly removed Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast without due process. Most of them were sent to one of ten concentration camps located throughout the United States: Amache, Gila River, Heart Mountain, Jerome, Manzanar, Minidoka, Poston, Rohwer, Topaz, and Tule Lake, as they are commonly referred to. The War Relocation Authority selected these locations because they were remote, owned by the federal government, and often near rail lines.

For many years after the war, Japanese Americans did their best to get on with their post-camp lives, preferring not to dwell on the unpleasant experience of incarceration. As the years passed however, the community became more interested in grappling with this part of its history. Trips back to the camps began, with some organizing group pilgrimages to facilitate the experience.

Pilgrimage to Amache concentration camp in Colorado. Photo: Tracy Kumono.

Pilgrimage to Amache concentration camp in Colorado. Photo: Tracy Kumono.

 

Now, more than seventy years after resettlement, there has evolved what could be called a pilgrimage season. The 2015 “season” begins in April and ends in August. Following is a complete schedule with links to more information about each of the organized pilgrimages, including registration and fees.

Pilgrimage to Manzanar (California): April 25, 2015
Pilgrimage to Amache (Colorado): May 16, 2015
Pilgrimage to Minidoka (Idaho): June 25–28, 2015
Pilgrimage to Heart Mountain (Wyoming): August 21–22, 2015
Tule Lake (California) hosts pilgrimages every other year; the next one is scheduled for July 2016.

These are the five sites that have regular pilgrimages; we encourage you to visit the others as well. With the exception of the Gila River camp in Arizona, permits are not required. In February, President Obama recognized Honouliuli in Hawai`i as a National Monument, so perhaps Hawai`i will one day be added as part of the pilgrimage season.

A family returns to the site of their former barrack at Amache. Photo: Tracy Kumono.

A family returns to the site of their former barrack at Amache. Photo: Tracy Kumono.

 

No matter who you are—whether you were incarcerated or not, whether you are of Japanese descent or not—you might consider visiting one of the former camp sites. There is nothing like standing there, feeling the air, seeing the mountains, sensing the scorching heat or the bitter cold. It is definitely worth a visit, even though they are remote and the conditions are harsh; in fact, that is the point.