Editor's note: The following text was reprinted on July 23, 2008 in Resource Library with permission from The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946. Copyright © 2005 by Delphine Hirasuna, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. The text is an excerpt of the Preface to the catalogue The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or if you are interested in obtaining a copy of the catalogue, please contact Ten Speed Press at either this web address or phone number:



 

Excerpt of Preface to The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946

by Delphine Hirasuna

 

The impetus for this book began in 2000 while I was rummaging through a dust-covered wooden box that I found in my parents' storage room after my mother's death. Inside, I came across a tiny wooden bird pin. From the safety-pin clasp on the back, I concluded that it must have been carved in the concentration camp where my parents were held during World War II. This prompted me to wonder what other objects made in the camps lay tossed aside and forgotten, never shown to anyone because they might generate questions too painful to answer.

As a child growing up after the war, I never heard my parents and their friends discuss the camps openly, but "camp" came up often in passing conversations. For them, time was separated into before camp and after camp. "We used to have one of those before camp." "We knew them from camp." "We had to buy a new one after camp." I never exactly understood, nor asked, what the camps were, but it struck me as odd that only Japanese Americans seemed to know about them. America's concentration camps were never mentioned in textbooks nor brought up in mixed (Japanese and non-Japanese) company. Japanese Americans chose not to talk about it because it stirred a sense of shame and humiliation, the sorrow and resentment of justice denied, and fear of arousing an anti-Japanese backlash.

The postcamp years on the West Coast were harsh for Japanese Americans. For many, it meant starting over from scratch. In the farmlands of California's San Joaquin Valley, where I was raised, I recall the weather-worn faces of the Issei (first-generation immigrants-my grandparents' generation) and how their hands were as tough as leather from laboring in the fields. Although some were said to have been rich before the war, when I knew them they were mostly tenant farmers, gardeners, and day laborers eking out barely enough to keep food on the table and a roof over their family's heads. "Shikataganai. It can't be helped," they would often say, quickly adding, "We have to gaman"-accept what is with patience and dignity. They repeated this so often, it sounded like a mantra.

Finding the bird pin among my mother's belongings made me reflect on their words. The objects that the Issei and the Nisei (second-generation, born in the United States) made in camp are a physical manifestation of the art of gaman. The things they made from scrap and found materials are testaments to their perseverance, their resourcefulness, their spirit and humanity.

In writing this book, I want to honor and preserve this aspect of the Japanese

American concentration camp experience. The historical overview at the outset is presented to provide a perspective for the circumstances under which the objects were made. Without this understanding, what one sees are lovely objects, folk art, Americana with a Japanese twist. But all these lovely objects were made by prisoners in concentration camps, surrounded by barbed wire fences, guarded by soldiers in watchtowers, with guns pointing down at them.

The objects shown here are only a small sampling of the things that were created in the camps. The wall murals and gardens are long gone. I could not locate examples of some popular camp art forms such as miniature tray landscapes (bon-kei). Judging by the number of people who lent me things still packed in boxes from 1945, countless other objects are undoubtedly hidden in garages.

Many people contributed to making this book happen, but I owe a special thank-you to my aunt and uncle, Bob and Rose Sasaki, who championed this project as if it was their own. And, of course, I wish to single out my dear friends designer Kit Hinrichs and photographer Terry Heffernan, who volunteered their incomparable talents to help bring this book to reality.

-- Reprinted with permission from The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946. Copyright © 2005 by Delphine Hirasuna, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA

 

About the Author:

Delphine Hirasuna is a third-generation (Sansei) Japanese American. She is the coauthor of several books, including Long May She Wave, 100 American Flags, 100 Baseball Icons, and the cookbook Flavors of Japan. She is also known for her feature columns in the bilingual newspapers Hokubei Mainichi and Rafu Shimpo. During World War II, her family was interned in Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas, and her father  served in Italy with the Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all second-generation (Nisei) Japanese American unit of the  American armed forces. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Resource Library editor's note:

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Kara Van de Water, Senior Publicist, Ten Speed Press, for her help oncerning permission for reprinting the above text

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