On December 21, 2022, longtime JANM Volunteer Frank Kikuchi passed away in his sleep.
Born in Seattle on October 21, 1924, he was incarcerated at the Manzanar concentration camp. After the war, Frank relocated to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights and started a family with his wife Tama. They had five children together and were married for 56 years until Tama died in 2004.
Frank started his own market called F and H Market and volunteered at JANM as a docent. When he was not busy giving tours and educating others about the history of Japanese Americans, he loved spending time with his children and going fishing.
On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a formal presidential apology and symbolic payment of financial reparations to surviving Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. Although many of the first generation Issei had already passed away and did not receive the apology, which occurred more than 40 years later, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was the first and only time that the US government publicly apologized for a mistake acknowledging that the exclusion, forced removal, and mass incarceration was due to a failure of political leadership, war hysteria, and racism.
JANMhonors this anniversary to acknowledge the unconstitutional, mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in remote US concentration camps without due process or evidence of wrongdoing 80 years ago. While recognizing the apology,JANM is also well aware that other past mistakes by the US government against Blacks and indigenous communities deserve recognition and reparations.
To learn more about the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, explore these online educational resources from JANM:
Photo: President Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 on August 10, 1988. From left to right, he is flanked by Senator Matsunaga of Hawaii, Representative Mineta of California, Representative Saiki of Hawaii, Senator Wilson of California, Representative Young of Alaska, Representative Matsui of California, Representative Lowery of California, and Harry Kajihara, president of the Japanese American Citizens League. Photo courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Library and National Archives and Records Administration.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the Japanese pop singer and kawaii model, toured Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles to support small businesses that were deeply affected by the pandemic.
Her tour included brief stops at JANM, Anime Jungle, Bunkado, Café Dulce, Fugetsu-do, Honda Plaza, Koyasan Buddhist Temple, the Metro station platform, and Okayama Kobo. Her visit was part of her Local Power Japan project, an initiative that included 30 stops to towns and cities throughout Japan to boost local tourism and make her performances more accessible to fans.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu also received a set of gifts or omiyage from the JANM Store that were selected and presented by Alexa Nishimoto, the marketing associate for JANM and self-proclaimed super fan of the musician. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu enjoyed the exhibitions and encouraged visitors to learn how the history of Japanese Americans continues to affect future generations.
“The work JANM does is so important for future generations to see,” said Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. “It is important for people to learn about this history.”
Bunkado, Café Dulce, Fugetsu-do, and Okayama Kobo will offer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-themed food throughout May 2022 at the discretion of store management. Café Dulce and Fugetsu-do are offering Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-themed donuts and mochi. Bunkado is selling Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-themed shirts through the end of this month.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s April visit to Little Tokyo and merchandise dovetails with Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month during May 2022. And what better way to celebrate Heritage Month than with a visit to JANM?
Visit JANM to explore our exhibitions to learn about the Japanese American experience!
This summer, Getty Marrow undergraduate interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles collaborated to create a collections-based project tasked with answering the question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions suggested that the answer to this specific question would not fully encapsulate the American experience of immigrants and their descendants. As a result, each intern approached this question from a different perspective and highlighted an artifact that touched upon different facets of the American experience and identity. In this post, Mercedes Solaberrieta and Jose Quirarte explore the historic vulnerability of American immigrants to systematic and de facto discrimination in the United States by highlighting the experiences of two immigrants during World War II.
Interns Mercedes Solaberrieta of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles and Jose Quirarte of JANM selected items that highlight the complexity of the American immigrant experience by demonstrating the vulnerability and discrimination that many immigrants to the United States have faced due to their ethnicity or country of origin. Mercedes selected a 1940s parole document of an Italian immigrant named Filippo Fordellone and Jose highlighted a 1942 diary entry of Gihachi Yamashita, a Japanese immigrant.
Due to America’s involvement in World War II fighting against the Axis Powers, which included Japan and Italy, both of these immigrant men were considered enemy aliens and stripped of their civil liberties because of war hysteria and racial prejudice. Both Yamashita and Fordellone were unjustly arrested by the FBI after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and imprisoned at Fort Missoula, Montana without due process. Additionally, Fordellone and Yamashita were impacted by Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent strict curfews and travel restrictions placed upon individuals of Japanese and Italian descent. Fordellone and Yamashita were both vulnerable as immigrants, recognized as enemy aliens due to their country of origin, unjustly arrested, and imprisoned far from their homes. Although the experiences of Fordellone and Yamashita are unique to context of WWII, their stories still demonstrate the greater historic relationship between vulnerability and discrimination that has largely characterized the American experience for immigrant populations.
Filippo Fordellone’s Parole Document
Contributed by: Mercedes Solaberrieta, Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
Fordellone was among the Italian Americans interned during World War II. Today the words “Italian” and “Italian American” are often associated with one of the nation’s favorite cuisines, high fashion, and family-centered cultures. This was not always the case. The United States has had a long history of anti-Italianism, including discriminatory laws, and hostility directed at Italian Americans reached another peak during World War II.
Born in Italy in 1890, Filippo Fordellone immigrated to the United States in 1926. He became a prominent radio broadcaster and was well known in the Italian American community. When Italy joined the Axis powers and the United States involvement in World War II became increasingly imminent, the U.S. government began compiling a list of Italians (as well as Germans and Japanese) living in the United States and its territories that it considered threats to American security. Following the nation’s entry into World War II, the U.S. government declared 600,000 Italian residents of the United States who had not yet become American citizens “enemy aliens.” President Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527, which authorized the United States to detain potentially dangerous “enemy aliens.” He also signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of persons from specified areas in the interest of national security.
In the case of the so-called Italian enemy aliens, many had lived in the United States for years and had children and grandchildren serving in the U.S. military. They were elderly and had been unable to pass the citizenship exam because of their limited literacy. Enemy aliens were required to register with the U.S. government and carry identification cards. They were subject to curfews and travel restrictions, and many were forced to evacuate their homes and surrender property. Some Italian “enemy aliens” were arrested and sent to internment camps. In the end, thousands of German nationals would also be interned and over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, many of whom were U.S. citizens, were forcibly relocated and incarcerated.
Although Fordellone had committed no crime, he was deemed a threat because as a prominent journalist, he was capable of influencing others. This was the case with many of the Italian Americans interned or threatened with internment, including baseball great Joe DiMaggio’s father. The FBI arrested Fordellone shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and transported him to an internment camp in Fort Missoula, Montana, where he remained for 14 months. Most arrestees were never informed of the charges against them or allowed legal counsel. While Fordellone was imprisoned, his wife Alessandra was left alone to care for their three children without any financial support, as the couple’s assets were frozen. For most of her husband’s confinement she had no idea as to where he was being held.
Fordellone’s parole document, which was executed in May of 1943, dictated the terms of his conditional release. Notice that it does not contain any mention of a conviction for any crime. Fordellone’s only crime was being Italian.
Although the civil liberty violations Italian Americans experienced during World War II were not as severe or widespread as the trauma and injustices inflicted on the Japanese and Japanese American community, the experience nonetheless left the Italian American community scarred. Many stopped speaking the Italian language and distanced themselves from their culture and heritage in an effort to appear more “American.”
Fordellone’s experience reflects the process through which Italian Americans gained acceptance in the United States. Italians were often seen as despised immigrants and “others” whose loyalty was subsequently called into question during World War II before eventually achieving acceptance as white ethnics. Today, Italian Americans are mostly considered to be “white,” but the process was not straightforward.
January 22, 1942, Diary Entry Written by Gihachi Yamashita
Contributed by: Jose Quirarte, Japanese American National Museum
Gihachi Yamashita documented his experience the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks in his personal diary, writing: “this is a day I will never be able to forget.” On December 8, 1941, at around 1:30 a.m., Yamashita was “shaken awake” and arrested by FBI agents. Yamashita was one of the many Japanese Americans who was targeted and arrested immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor due to a faulty presumption that the Japanese living on the West Coast of the U.S. were dangerous. Many of those who were arrested were already being monitored before the war because of the U.S. government’s false belief that they were potentially dangerous due to their connections to Japanese institutions. Most of the Japanese Americans who were unjustly arrested after the Pearl Harbor attacks were well-respected or important contributing members of their communities.
Following his arrest, Yamashita was imprisoned and moved around to a variety of concentration camps operated by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Meanwhile, his wife and two daughters were forced to sell their property and move to the Santa Anita temporary detention center due to Executive Order 9066, which forced the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast into concentration camps. Yamashita’s wife and two daughters stayed at Santa Anita until being transferred to the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas. Yamashita’s diary entry tells the harrowing story of his arrest and removal to Fort Missoula, a Department of Justice internment camp in Missoula, Montana, but it also revealed how being excluded from the definition of “an American” led to losing his right to due process, and more generally, his “unalienable rights.”
Yamashita wrote about his experience of being arrested and taken in for questioning by the FBI in his personal diary. He noted that while he was imprisoned, his wife and daughter visited him twice and a guard watched over their conversation (which had to be in English). Yamashita detailed the entirety of his forced removal and wrote that on December 8th he was initially detained at Lincoln Heights Jail for four days, from December 12th to the 22nd he was imprisoned at a county jail, and on the afternoon of the 22nd was held at the Tuna Canyon Camp in Los Angeles for two days before he arrived at Fort Missoula on December 28th. Yamashita concluded his entry by writing about the brutal living conditions of the camp, noting that he and the other Japanese prisoners weren’t given an opportunity to prepare for the Montana winter and were forced to endure the freezing temperatures of Missoula without any winter gear.
Yamashita’s diary entry demonstrates how Japanese immigrants during WWII were stripped of their due process rights because of xenophobia and racism. Yamashita’s unjust arrest, removal, and incarceration was partially a product of Japanese immigrants being “otherized” by American anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant sentiment for most of the 20th century. In the early to mid 20th century, Japanese immigrants faced immense anti-Japanese sentiment in California from political labor groups, individuals, and legislation: California’s Alien Land Law of 1913 restricted “aliens” from owning land; the Gentlemen’s Agreement and the 1924 Immigration Act restricted Japanese entry into the United States; and the 1940 Alien Registration Act forced all “aliens” above the age of 14 to register and be fingerprinted. All of these contributed to the “otherization” of Japanese immigrants and their children, and implied a flawed presumption that they could not truly be “real Americans” in the 20th century. The anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant rhetoric came to a peak after the attacks on Pearl Harbor spurred irrational distrust towards Japanese Americans and other immigrant groups in America.
Yamashita, and many other Japanese immigrants who were living in the U.S., had to face the constant barrier of anti-immigrant rhetoric and unjust legislation that deemed them to be “un-American” or unassimilable. Yamashita’s diary entry reveals his experience of being unjustly arrested in his own home, detained without cause, and imprisoned in a concentration camp due to his race. His experience exemplifies the real-life consequences of being excluded from the arbitrary definition of “an American.” Although Yamashita’s experience is unique to the context of WWII, his experience is just one example of that signifies that American immigrants have historically been susceptible to being excluded from the definition of “an American,” and as a result, have seen instances where they have been stripped of their unalienable rights.
Fordellone and Yamashita’s stories reveal common themes of vulnerability, systemic inequality, discrimination, and “otherization” that America’s immigrant populations have been subjected to throughout the country’s history. Although historic instances of “otherization” and discrimination do not solely define the American immigrant experience, it has played a significant factor in the way immigrant populations have been received and treated. The stories of Fordellone and Yamashita tell only a small story in the long history of discrimination that Japanese and Italian immigrants have faced in the United States. WWII was not the catalyst for discrimination, but rather, it acted as an immense amplifier of the discrimination. In the early 20th century, both of Japanese and Italian immigrants were already facing immense racist and xenophobic sentiment and legislation that “otherized” and targeted them. However, during WWII, war hysteria amplified preexisting racist and xenophobic sentiment which resulted in the targeting of Japanese and Italian immigrants, and the loss of their civil liberties. Although the details and extent of their incarceration experiences are different, both Fordellone and Yamashita experienced the trauma and injustices American immigrants have historically faced because of their vulnerability to systematic discrimination and anti-immigrant prejudice in America.
If you would like to learn more about Gihachi Yamashita’s story, check-out JANM’s, “Enemy Mail: An American Story of Wartime Separation,” which is dedicated to telling his and his family’s story of incarceration during WWII through artifacts in JANM’s Yamashita Collection. If you would like to learn more about Filippo Fordellone or see other objects pertaining to Fordellone you may visit the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles’s online collection webpage.
On May 27, 1943, Kiku Nakamichi was crowned Queen of Denson at a coronation ball, which was part of a weekend carnival at the Jerome concentration camp.
Kiku was presented with a wooden, heart-shaped plaque painted red, green, and gold. It had been crafted by staff at the wood shop where she worked as a secretary. Four months later, when Kiku and her husband departed Jerome, wood shop staff and friends added signatures and farewell messages to the back of the plaque.
Captured in a photograph from the night of the coronation, Kiku is flanked by her two attendants Mary Ikeguchi and Bessie Nakashima, where she is seeing holding the plaque. According to the camp newspaper, Denson Tribune, “William O. Melton, assistant Project director, who crowned the queen had the first dance with Queen Kiku following the coronation.”
Although events throughout all of the camps were common, including coronations and carnivals, each one offered a unique opportunity for incarcerated Japanese Americans to participate in activities seemingly at dramatic odds with their forced surroundings.
The plaque was passed on to Kiku’s daughter, Cindi Ishigaki, who donated it to JANM’s permanent collection this past January.
Food Fancies, by Evelyn Kimura, was a column in the Topaz Saturday Times about all things food. In the wake of forced incarceration, Japanese Americans used what little resources they had to make some of their favorite meals. According to Kimura, the key to at-home cooking was simplicity. (And don’t use up all the coal for everyone in the barracks.)
Camp cooking is a legacy that has been passed down to many of us through the generations. Growing up, I knew that shoyu hotdogs and rice meant that Mom was tired. While we spend our current hours social-distancing and rationing food, we can call upon the lessons from those who came before us.
Homemade noodles, courtesy of Mrs. J Yanagizawa of 14-1-A
Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups of flour 1 egg Fresh vegetables of your choice 1 can bouillon or broth
Mix flour and egg (or you can substitute water). Let stand all day until hard.
Roll flat and cut into strips.
Then begin soup mixture by boiling fresh vegetables of your choice.
Add 1 can of bouillon (broth) to vegetables and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
Boil soup and noodles for another 15 minutes.
If ready made noodles are being used, boil them before adding to the soup.
We plan to share more camp recipes, so check back for more. We hope you try out this recipe. And please let us know if you do!
Thanks to Emily Anderson who came across this recipe while searching through the World War II camp newspapers on the Densho Digital Repository as part of her research for an upcoming JANM exhibition. The full issue can be found here (Densho, Courtesy of the family of Itaru and Shizuko Ina).
Every three months, staff at the Japanese American National Museum meet to discuss donation offers of artifacts for the museum’s permanent collection. One collection that arrived at the museum recently was from the family of Larry Akira Ogino.
Kathy Bishop and her siblings recently offered to JANM a collection of watercolor paintings created by their father, Larry Akira Ogino, during his time at the WRA concentration camp at Poston. The five vibrant watercolors accepted into JANM’s permanent collection capture life and scenery at Poston, with some of the works evoking the style of other watercolor artists in Poston and other camps, such as Gene Sogioka.
Larry was born in 1919 in San Francisco, California. During his youth, the family owned and operated a fruit and vegetable farm in the Los Gatos and Campbell neighborhoods adjacent to San Jose. Prior to incarceration, Larry was an art student at San Jose State College. Larry, his mother, and three brothers were sent directly to Poston. Their father joined them after a year at the Santa Fe Department of Justice camp. Larry left camp in June 1943 for employment in Chicago, and later volunteered to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He served as a medic in Europe during his tour of duty.
Once out of the service, Larry was sponsored by a family friend and was able to continue his studies at the Studio School of Art in Chicago. During this time, he painted landscapes in watercolor, but also experimented with oils and acrylics. He was hired as a technical illustrator and worked for several different companies in the Midwest before finally returning to San Jose, where he was employed at FMC Corporation until his retirement. Until his death in 2000, Larry continued to paint—some animals (including cougars, foxes, dogs, cats, and birds), but mostly landscapes.
With over 100,000 artifacts, JANM’s Collections Management and Access staff work to preserve and document the experiences of Japanese Americans like Larry Akira Ogino. If you are interested in donating, making an appointment to view your family’s past donations, or learning more about objects in JANM’s permanent collection, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Saturday, February 17, JANM will present the 2018 Day of Remembrance in partnership with Go for Broke National Education Center, Japanese American Citizens League-Pacific Southwest District, the Manzanar Committee, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, Nikkei Progressives, OCA-Greater Los Angeles, and Progressive Asian Network for Action (PANA). This year’s theme is “The Civil Liberties Act of 1988: The Victory and the Unfinished Business.”
In addition to marking the 76th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, an act that led to the forced evacuation and mass incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II, this year’s Day of Remembrance also commemorates the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the legislation that provided a formal apology from the US government and monetary reparations to survivors of the incarceration. Years in the making, this landmark legislation went a long way toward providing vindication and closure for the Japanese American community. Over 82,500 survivors received the President’s apology and the token monetary compensation provided by the CLA.
Today, however, we again find ourselves living in a climate of fear and scapegoating, in which several different immigrant populations have become vulnerable to unfair targeting. At this year’s event, we hope to strengthen our collective voice as we strive to prevent a repeat of what happened to Japanese Americans 76 years ago. Featured speakers will include Alan Nishio, community activist and founding member of National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (now Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress), who will speak about the importance of the Civil Liberties Act, what it did not accomplish, and its ongoing relevance today. The DOR program will also continue its tradition of paying tribute to the Issei and Nisei generations.
Admission to this event and to the museum are both pay-what-you-wish on this day. Last year’s event drew standing-room-only crowds, so RSVPs for this year’s Day of Remembrance are strongly encouraged. For updates on the day’s program, please visit janm.org or the Facebook event page.
The Japanese American National Museum recently launched a new web resource, Exploring America’s Concentration Camps. Like our core exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community, which provides a key educational experience for 15,000 students and teachers every year, EACC showcases photographs, letters, artwork, oral histories, and moving images from our permanent collection. We selected and digitized artifacts from all 10 War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps and organized them thematically for this new website. Our goal is to share our collection widely with students and teachers around the nation to help them learn more about the Japanese American World War II experience.
The above photo of a group of women making mochi in the Gila River camp in Arizona has a handwritten caption: “New Years a comin’.” At around the same time in Utah’s Topaz camp, artist Hisako Hibi painted two stacked pieces of mochi topped with a small citrus, a symbol of hope for a healthy and prosperous new year. On the back of her painting, Hibi wrote, “Hisako Hibi. Jan 1943 at Topaz. Japanese without mochi (pounded sweet rice) is no New Year! It was very sad oshogatsu. So, I painted okazari mochi in the internment camp.” These artifacts, like many others in JANM’s permanent collection, speak to how important it was for those in camp to find ways to maintain their traditions, despite being incarcerated in harsh environments far from home.
Other artifacts speak to the idea of security. For example, this badge and identification card are from the collection of Norio Mitsuoka, the inmate who would become the fire chief at Idaho’s Minidoka camp. The WRA created and ran camp entities like fire departments to ensure standard protections for the Japanese American prisoners. Such artifacts not only give viewers a deeper understanding of camp life, but they also surface broader questions about security, both physical and psychological.
A handmade chest of drawers, meanwhile, illustrates the dignity with which the Japanese Americans endured the camps. The collection of Frank S. Emi, who is perhaps best known for his leadership in the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, offers us a glimpse at another skill he possessed: furniture making. In an oral history interview for JANM, he shared what the furniture meant to him:
I built this chest of drawers from scrap lumber in the fall of 1942 while incarcerated at the Heart Mountain, Wyoming, concentration camp. The barracks were bare except for a potbelly stove and a single light bulb dangling from the roof. I had also built a vanity with a 36-inch mirror (purchased from a mail order catalog), which was my pride and joy.
Born to parents of Japanese and Mexican descent, Shizu Saldamando creates exquisite drawings in which she investigates the variety of social constructs and subcultures seen in Los Angeles’ backyard parties, dance clubs, music shows, hang-out spots, and art receptions. By focusing on the subtle details that define different scenes, she captures the unexpected influences at work in America’s social spaces. Saldamando’s work is currently on view at JANM as part of the exhibition Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo.
This Saturday, December 2, Saldamando will be giving a Members Only Artist Talk as well as leading a craft workshop titled Paper Flowers from the Camp Archives. We sat down with her via email to learn more about her family background, what shaped her practice as an artist, and how she came to develop her paper flowers workshop, which pays tribute to one of the ways that her family—and others—found to deal with the trauma of the World War II Japanese American incarceration.
JANM: I’ve read that your mom is a community organizer and your dad is a human rights lawyer. Your family life must have been filled with social and political awareness and dialogue. Do you think that influenced your artwork?
Shizu Saldamando: Growing up in San Francisco’s Mission District in the 1980s, I was very much influenced by my parents’ work as well as by the Chicano art centers in the area, all of whom were heavily informed by activism, the United Farm Workers, the Central American wars that were happening at that time, and other pressing issues of the day. It was the era of Reaganomics and the Cold War, so a lot of the artwork that was being produced in my neighborhood was heavily loaded and spoke about human rights and issues affecting low-income and immigrant communities—the same issues we are dealing with today.
JANM: The Japanese side of your family was incarcerated during World War II. How did that history influence you growing up?
SS: My mom helped develop a curriculum for the schools in San Francisco that taught about the Japanese American concentration camps, so I was able to make connections between their experience and that of other immigrant communities. I saw the various ways that immigrants and people of color are easily scapegoated and targeted in order to further whatever agenda the current administration is seeking to implement. In my community, I was exposed to artists who used their work to re-contextualize and assert an alternative narrative to what was playing on the news, and that was very influential.
In my own practice now, a lot of my work is not overtly political in that there are not many slogans or protests signs. However, I choose to depict friends and family who occupy a space outside of mainstream circles and who consciously construct their own creative communities. These people are the legacy of many historical struggles; they have, out of the need for survival, created their own supportive spaces.
JANM: Yes, you’ve said that your art is about “subculture and perseverance.” Perseverance, of course, is one of the cornerstone themes of Japanese culture and Japanese American history, as embodied in the popular saying gaman (“bear the unbearable with patience and dignity”). Can you talk some more about your experiences with subcultures?
SS: In the mid-1990s, I moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA’s art school. There, I was also very influenced by many different musical scenes. Every week, I would go to various punk shows and dance clubs that would be playing anything from gothic industrial music, rock en español, punk, or British pop. Being part of these different scenes in Los Angeles was very special in that most of the people who inhabited them were Chicano/of Mexican descent. There was always a large queer presence as well. Being politically conscious and active was a given within these scenes, especially in the ’90s, so they became very comfortable places for me to inhabit. I made a lot of friends and chose to depict them in my artwork.
I like to think of the community of Japanese Americans who survived the camps as their own subculture as well. They are such a specific group of people, who all went through this awful historical trauma together, and whose descendants carry that weight whether they like to admit it or not. I know for a fact that my own family members who survived the camps all suffer different forms of PTSD in some way or another. Their coping mechanisms differ but I like to recognize one that is always close to my heart: communal crafting.
JANM: Was this the inspiration behind your upcoming workshop on paper flowers?
SS: Yes. Being very influenced by my aunt’s crafting circles and the different projects that she and her friends created, I thought it would be nice to give a nod to her and the communal crafting that happened at the camps. She was only a child when she was incarcerated in the camp at Rohwer, Arkansas, so I’m not sure if she worked with the same flower patterns I’ll be using in my class, but I still think of this workshop as an homage to her and her love of craft.
JANM: I understand that your research on this topic actually stretches back several years. Tell us how it all came about.
SS: One day, I was walking through JANM’s Common Ground exhibition and I heard one of the volunteer docents talking about how, in the photos of funerals at the camps, the funeral wreaths were actually made out of paper. Real flowers were not available at the camps since most of them were located in harsh, remote environments. When people passed away, the community would come together and make paper flowers for the funerals.
Later, I was asked to make an altar for Día de los Muertos and I chose to do a piece in honor of my aunt’s husband, who had been incarcerated at Manzanar and passed away around 2000. I decided to make a paper flower wreath as a nod to camp tradition. I wanted it to be historically accurate, so I made a research appointment with one of the archivists at JANM. The archivist provided me with a huge amount of material. She wheeled in carts of flowers made out of scrap wood, flowers made out of shells, flowers made out of pipe cleaners, you name it, along with several files full of information.
Among those was a book that documented the excavation of the gravesites at Manzanar, providing a complete rundown of all the people who passed away there, how they died, and what was found at their gravesites. There were photos of wire remnants that were once paper flower stems, photos of broken glass jars that once held paper flower bouquets, and photos of people making flowers in the camps. In addition, she found a small catalog insert from an old Woolworth’s catalog that was an instruction manual on how to make paper roses. I made copies of that manual and used it to make the wreath for my altar.
I keep revisiting this project in different forms. When I was invited to participate in the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s CrossLines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality in May 2016, I chose to do an interactive wreath-making workshop to call attention to the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment that is running rampant with our current administration. Tragically, the paper flower project remains pertinent and timely not only because of the current political climate but because now, so many camp survivors are passing on and taking that history with them. I think it’s important to keep their legacy alive and always in our minds.
There are still a few spaces left for Shizu Saldamando’s flower-making workshop on Saturday, December 2. If you are a JANM member, you can also sign up for the Members Only Artist Talk she is giving earlier that day. Visit janm.org for more info and to RSVP.