Japanese Internment Memorial Essay

The city of San Jose is filled with many gems, from artwork to street vendors and captivating museums. One may easily walk past an important part of San Jose on 2nd Street, but if it does catch the eye, the sculpture is entirely riveting. The Japanese Internment Memorial is a tribute to the Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which permitted the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans on the West Coast. The Japanese Americans were forced to evacuate their homes and relocate and remained in the camps for up to four years. There were countless property and personal losses since only 150 pounds per person was allowed on the transportation used to get to the relocation centers.

In San Jose, Japantown was set up right next to Chinatown by 1902. There was an abundance of businesses in Japantown catering to Japanese American men. After the relocation, almost all of Japantown’s businesses closed down. Once the executive order was revoked in 1944, some people returned from the internment camps to San Jose and were able to restore the livelihood of Japantown. The neighborhood still exists today on Jackson Street. Interestingly, Yoshihiro Uchida Hall (a classroom building at San Jose State University) was a transfer point for Japanese Americans when sending them to the internment camps. Yoshihiro Uchida is a judo coach at SJSU, and his parents and siblings were also concurrently transferred in Yoshihiro Uchida Hall during World War II.

Ruth Asawa was born in Los Angeles County on January 24, 1926. She worked in farms and attended a Japanese cultural school as a child. She was separated from her father when her family was sent to a separate internment camp from him in 1942. Asawa spent time in the Santa Anita and Rohwer internment camps. She received her education in the arts at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, CA.

The bronze memorial in the city of San Jose depicts scenes from the Japanese Internment camps, from relocation to the camps themselves. One of the most striking details is the barbed wiring on both sides of the wall. After further research, I discovered that it is curled on one side, representing the Japanese farming community in California before relocation. The wire is straight on the other side of the wall, representing barriers for the internment camps. Each detail on the bronze sculpture is so intricate; from the women’s skirts and aprons to the young children’s toys and even the people’s hands and fingers. A second vignette that I will forever remember is the loss of personal belongings when a family is being relocated. There is a part of the wall which displays the family getting rid of their things, with an “Evacuation Sale” sign on the front porch of their home. A young girl is crying as her father is getting rid of her doll; it is heartbreaking to see people losing the things that keep them sane.

WC: 503


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