Dorothea Lange + Japanese Internment

I came across this photocollection on Facebook and it is very powerful to me. Please forgive the more disjointed nature of this writeup, but I really do feel a lot more like little vignettes / scenes of feelings.

You’ve seen Dorothea Lange’s photos even if you don’t know her name (this one for sure, but also this one). I didn’t know that she took photos of the Japanese Internment program.

It’s really a lot, especially in this current political climate. It hits me even harder because I know California. Just like the quotes, I’ve ridden the 22 bus/streetcar up to Fillmore. I’ve passed by Hayward. I’ve even been to Tule Lake. This picture hit me quite hard. How often did I say the Pledge of Allegiance in class? How often have I been the other in school?

Lately, I feel like I’ve been expressing my Asian American heritage a lot more, thanks to my friends. MIT is significantly more diverse than my high school was, but I really haven’t felt like I clicked with the Asians there until now. I eat homemade hotpot with my friends, made of nothing but the leftovers we have laying around – napa cabbage and enoki mushrooms and san dong noodles. When I yelled at my friends for their 爛胡 mahjong hand, breaking up my 碰碰胡 while I was 听一个, I reflected on the fact that this was really the first time I had significantly spoken in Chinese to any of my friends for an extended period of time. It felt really good.

My dad has been gradually scanning old photos from when he was a kid in Taiwan and they feel very similar to this photo and this photo in particular. I can totally see him or kids like him being forced out of their homes and into camps like this.

I keep flip-flopping between thinking that a lot of the rhetoric around Trump is a bit overblown to worrying about the innumerable failures he’s done to remove his business self-interests or demonstrate a bare minimum of willingness of even pretending to care about foreign policy relations. However, in the big picture, why in the world are we even still using the same rhetoric to talk about people? Like geez, look at this:

“The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on American soil, possessed of American citizenship, have be come ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted.

…It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these are organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity.

The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”

— General John L. DeWitt, head of the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command

“I think Islam hates us. There’s something – there’s something there that – that’s a tremendous hatred there – there’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There’s an unbelievable hatred of us.

….We have to be very vigilant. We have to be very careful. We can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States and of people that are not Muslim!

….[The terrorists are] radical [Islam], but it’s very hard to define, it’s very hard to – to separate because you don’t know who’s who”

Donald Trump

If you ever find yourself going through Northern California, I do seriously recommend checking out Tule Lake. We went there before Bush made it a National site, so it was just a single roadside plaque at the end of these fields and fields of what I think my dad said were horseraddish plants (he used to be a plant pathologist). It was a really dry and barren landscape – the only green coming from the heavily irrigated plants. I still remember standing there in front of the plaque while my dad pointed out that farming on this site was pretty deeply ironic. According to him, part of the motivation for the Japanese to be put in internment camps was that white farmers were jealous of the Japanese farmers’ successes and ended up profiting greatly by seizing Japanese-owned lands. I don’t have any sources on this, but you can see by some of the Lange pictures that some Japanese farmers were indeed doing quite well for themselves, one having a payroll of $8000 in the 1930s!

Just in general, the Northern California + Oregon + Idaho area is really underappreciated in my opinion and has a ton of cool stuff. Craters of the Moon National Monument is probably one of my favorite national parks.

Stay vigilant, my friends.

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