Monday, October 22, 2012

Courage and Resilience

Although I have already written a post about the art from the camps, I through the artifacts deserved another post, as they prove to be some of the most interesting and novel items I have seen at the archive.

Hana cards are a quintessential part of the Japanese American household. My family has a few decks that have been passed down through the generations. Although Hana cards are one of the few things that links Japanese American households to historic Japan, Hana cards only became popular relatively recently (late 1800s) through their production by Nintendo Koppai, the same Nintendo company that dominates the world of video games today. I never knew of this connection before I thought to research their origin while working a the archive. It's always strange to see unexpected connection in the world between the past and our present day.

Anyway, the deck of Hana cards I found at the archive were owned by an individual in the internment camps, and donated to the archive. These cards have remained in fairly good condition, given that they are hand- crafted and very fragile. Many people who were sent to internment camps during the Second World War burned all of their personal effects because they feared that any links that may be found between their family and the nation of Japan might be perceived as evidence of their betrayal to the United States. Many families lost cherished family portraits of loved ones in Japan along with other objects brought over from Japan. To be able to find an object like these Hana cards not only connects us to the everyday experiences of the Japanese Americans in the camps, but it also tells us of their courage to keep their belongings with them, even if they might make them vulnerable to unwarranted inquiry into their allegiance to the United States. All of the objects at the archive tell us a bit of the story of the individual who owned them. Sometimes they tells us of their courage, and other times they tells us of their hope and resilience.

Some objects that tell us of their resilience through the trails of life in the internment camps include the hand-painted bird that I mentioned in my previous post. Within the camps, many essential items of daily life were scarce, or absent. Over time, things like food, clothes, furniture, and other everyday objects became more readily available. Often, the interned individuals took it upon themselves to make the tools that the needed. Having these beautifully painted birds tells us that art, as an object essential for everyday living, was not forgotten. This artist used their skills to create pieces that help bring more color and life into the drab existence of the desert barracks. Those who were interned often tell stories of their parents building a community in the camps in an attempt to create a true home within the detention centers.

Although my work at the archive may be tedious at times, I hardly notice because the stories and the objects connect me to a world that has had a profound effect on my family's history. I will never truly know their experiences. However, through my exposure to the remnants of that past, I can gain greater access.

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