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Posts Tagged ‘dorothea lange’

My friend was born and raised in Hawaii. His parents were Japanese-American. His mother was sent to an internment camp during World War II. It’s a complicated story how she got released and ended up in Japan for the war’s duration. Something like a prisoner swap. She returned to Hawaii after the war and raised a family.

My friend was invited to talk to fifth graders about his mother’s experience in the camp. He was reluctant. It’s painful to think about. Would young children get it?

In the end, he went, and it was a good experience for him as well as for the kids. I think he had an impact on how they think about differences in our multicultural society. And their curiosity and understanding was a comfort to him.

Here is what he put on Facebook this spring.

“Last week I spoke to two classes of fifth graders about my mom’s experience in a Japanese-American relocation camp during World War II. After the talk, one of the students asked me why the Japanese-Americans had been relocated to camps but the German-Americans hadn’t. Wow, I could have hugged that boy for asking such a perceptive question, and I was also touched by how the students were able to draw a parallel between the Japanese-American discrimination decades ago and the anti-Muslim sentiment that’s currently been gaining so much traction in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

My friend posted a family photo that he goes on to describe. It is not the photo I put below.

“This photo, taken in the mid 1930s, is of my mom and her younger sister when they were growing up in downtown Honolulu, before they were forced to relocate to a camp in Arkansas. My mom looks like she’s around the age of the students I was talking to last week, and when I showed those students this photo I got a little emotional imagining my mom as a young girl being in that classroom too, listening to me tell her story. In such ways, our stories really do have such raw power to connect people through different generations and cultures, which, I suppose, is why I first became interested in becoming a writer all those years ago.”

America has always needed people like my friend’s mother — people who carry on and return benefits to the place that harmed them. And there are lots of them. Even in the town where I live, a couple who suffered internment during the war became quietly known for philanthropy to both the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund, Inc. and our town, donating all their reparation money to local high school scholarships.

Photo: Dorothea Lange
Some Japanese-Americans who suffered from internment in World War II
still chose to return kindness for hurt after the war.

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My colleague Bob put me on to a NY Times blog called “Lens,” and in particular, a post by James Estrin about a modest 2013 version of the Farm Security Administration’s photographic outreach of the 1930s.

He writes, “Just as the Farm Security Administration unleashed a team of photographers to chronicle the United States in the 1930s, Lens is beginning a new interactive project called ‘My Hometown.’

“In the coming months, we are asking high school students to help create a 21st century portrait of America, turning their cameras on their neighborhoods, families, friends and schools. …

“Participants must either be enrolled in high school or be 14 to 18 years old. All submissions must be uploaded under the supervision of a photography class teacher or program instructor by the May 1 deadline. …

“The resulting collection of photographs will be shown in an interactive gallery of several thousand pictures that will be sortable by geography or theme. We will also highlight select images in a series of posts on the Lens Blog. Many of the photos will be archived at the Library of Congress (just like the Farm Security Administration) photos. …

“If your high school or community-based photography program wants to participate, the instructor should contact the Lens editors by e-mail at lens.projects@gmail.com. …

“We will start accepting entries on March 20.” More.

As Bob commented to me, an initiative like this is likely to appeal to kids. Writing essays about one’s hometown might be harder to get charged up about, especially if you don’t feel like a writer. But everyone takes pictures, and some teens will be inspired to be artful with them.


Photograph: Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress/Farm Security Administration

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