Nikkei Ground Zero: Revisiting American and Canadian Japanese Internment
Nikkei Ground Zero examines landscapes formerly used in the imprisonment of the Nikkei or Japanese Diaspora following independent Canadian and U.S. Government decrees in early 1942 forcing the “evacuation” and “relocation”—euphemisms for mass incarceration—of persons of Japanese ancestry from the western coastal areas. The internment history is shared between Japanese nationals and first- and second-generation citizens in the U.S. and Canada. As a citizen of both countries, I believe these shameful events serve as a potent example of the fragility of democracy and the necessity of remembrance and vigilance. Seventy-five years later, fewer and fewer witnesses to this history remain. Although well documented, the narratives are obscure beyond those directly affected, due to the endemic racism towards Asians in both countries, and to years of self-censorship among survivors. More concerning, despite the redresses of the late 80s, few of today’s youth are aware of the internments. My project attempts to address that gap in knowledge by giving visibility to these histories and raising questions about how such a “tragedy of democracy” (Greg Robinson, 2009) could occur. In this moment of rising global nationalism, populism, and Islamophobia, it is particularly instructive to reflect on the past and to bear witness to the failure of our democratic institutions in times of extreme polarization and deliberate campaigns of mis-information and “fake news.”
I examine and evoke histories of the internment through the act of witnessing/revisiting sites of trauma hidden in plain view. I do this not as a victim, but as a privileged “latecomer” who questions the histories of both my birthplace and my chosen home. In examining landscape sites—marked by detritus or fully animated with didactic panels and museological displays—I aim to engage in a dialogue around the unmistakable relationship between state racism, economics, and “scape-goating” underlying the internment. Despite numerous studies revealing that no person of Japanese ancestry was ever found guilty of sabotage, these events are still rationalized today by the idea that mass incarceration of the Japanese Diaspora (over two thirds of whom were citizens) was necessary for the security of our nations.
Currently in dialogue with both American and Canadian survivors of the internment, I am researching histories on both sides of the border. I will examine sites marked by the same attitudes and policies, while also investigating significant differences in their experiences. Having photographed in six U.S. locations thus far, I intend to photograph the ten internment camp locations in both countries.