Friday, April 20, 2012

Constructing History

(The videos might be a little long for such a busy time of the semester, so I put the times of the clips that I thought were most important to watch next to the links)

Our reading and discussion of Kristine Kuramitsu’s article “Internment and Identity in Japanese American Art” brought to surface the importance of examining this event through various artworks, so I decided to examine some of these sources and investigate how they not only construct history on their own, but also create a more refined history in the way that they speak to one another.

Of the works that came out from Japanese internment, nothing seems more “carefully constructed” than the films of the WRA (3:14-7:25…8:35-end) that conveyed an “exaggerated normalcy” of the camps to the U.S. public (Kuramitsu 423). It strikes me that the narrator portrays the Japanese Americans as whole-heartedly accepting their situation, and opens and closes by arguing that the United States should be seen as a model country in treating even potential enemies with care.  Viewers see the camps as an opportunity for the Japanese to “reclaim the desert” with the support of helpful government officials. 

A more ambiguous image of internment is created when we consider this documentation next to Never Again—A Story of Yaeko Nakano, a short film that relays a first hand experience of Japanese Internment. While Nakano was able to explore music in prison similar to the artists in Kuramitsu’s chapter, she also emphasizes the hardships that came with leaving.  The WRA video mentions the shops these people left behind, but omits the manner in which families were broken and uprooted from homes.  Nakano reveals the complex feelings that came with internment, as she was sad to leave Tacoma but was “looking forward to her trip”, and went on to discover love and music in the camp.

The history of Japanese Internment is further constructed by the art of third-generation Japanese Americans, such as the poem “Letters from Tule Lake Internment Camp” by David Mura.
(2:22-End) The “healthful nourishing food” described by the WRA is here described as “putrid gray beans”, and the music described in the opening can be compared to the Nakano’s piano playing.  His introduction connects Japanese treatment in the 1940s to Muslim-Americans after 9/11, showing the manner in which perceptions of history are also understood in terms of the present context and issues. 
The WRA films, various works from the prisoners, and art created by descendants of the prisoners help us understand how Japanese Internment was perceived, and is perceived today. That is, these sources prove that history truly is a “construction” that is “never-ending” (Kuramitsu 619).

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