“I smiled and sat down, suddenly aware of what being of Japanese ancestry was going to be like. I wouldn’t be faced with physical attack, or with overt shows of hatred. Rather, I would be seen as someone foreign, or as someone other than American, or perhaps not be seen at all.”

Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

My toes and fingers tingled as we drove into Fresno from Southern California. The weather was colder than where we lived, especially when we visited Grandpa for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Though the sky was cold and grey, smoke danced from the chimney of his house. A blazing fire always burned in the fireplace with the wafting aroma of woody chestnuts roasting and popping. As a child, I took the safety and warmth of these memories for granted because just a few miles away stood Manzanar.

When the opportunity arose in college to create a poster for the See America Project, I initially wanted to create something beautiful. I chose national parks I’ve been to as a child but was not satisfied with the compositions. The project itself seemed lost on me. Until I remembered a trip we took one cold winter day to Manzanar. I asked my mom to take me out of curiosity because I read a novel called Farewell to Manzanar the previous spring semester that completely broke my heart.

Manzanar was always on my mind because it was only a few miles from my grandpa’s house. As an Asian American, I realized it, too, could have been us. I can see the sadness in my grandfather’s eyes as he’s marched from the warm, crackling fireplace of his living room into the stoic valley of the Sierra Nevada. His toes numb from the cold, wandering the barbed wire barricade, the warmth of his house behind the mountains. This picture was so striking. I had to compose it. The background is the Japanese Flag, pictured here as the setting sun, behind the Sierra Nevada Mountains with the barbed wire fence in the foreground.

It was a minimal, despairing composition compared to the elaborately colored posters of my classmates. But it spoke what was in my heart. It gave me peace.

My teacher helped me submit the poster, and a few weeks later, to my utter surprise, the Creative Action Network reached out to have it printed in the See America book. The National Parks Conservation Association also featured Manzanar in their article.

I am astonished and grateful that this tragedy is not lost to time. It’s told through the voices of those who were there; a fragment of their memory speaks in this project. I hope we never forget why Manzanar, Topaz, Poston, Gila River, Granada (Amache), Heart Mountain, Jerome, Minidoka, Rohwer, or Tule Lake were created. Nor our people we sent there.

Japanese-American Incarceration During World War II, National Archives

Farewell to Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston

See National Parks Through Artists’ Eyes by the National Parks Conversation Association.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence by Bossa Celli

Siamee Yang Email Marketing Manager with over seven years of Design Direction, Visual Design, Front-End Development and Management specializing in omni-channel ecom marketing.