Local Japanese-American Suga Moriwaki experienced internment firsthand during World War II when she was born in Topaz Internment Camp in Utah.
“I was born in a laundry room, because that was the only place in the camp with running water,” said the Lodi resident.
During the war, Moriwaki’s family and Lodi’s Japanese-American community were uprooted — the same as many others across the country — and sent to internment camps.
Moriwaki remembered her family’s history while visiting a new traveling exhibit at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. The exhibit hopes to capture the remnants and artifacts of that period — when Japanese-Americans struggled to find a sense of normalcy while imprisoned by the government.
“You had a camp where people were prosecuted without due process. They weren’t charged with any crime or put on trial,” said Hiroshi Shimizu, who was born at Tule Lake Internment Camp and is part of the Tule Lake Committee, which brings people on pilgrimages to the historic camp.
The exhibit, titled “The Art of Survival: Enduring the Turmoil of Tule Lake,” tells a story through photographs of artifacts left at Tule Lake, one of the former interment camp sites in Northern California.
Photographer Hiroshi Watanabe captured some of the objects left behind at the site, such as coffee cans, pipe cleaner dolls and ornate pins made of wood and shells.
Originally from Japan, Watanabe moved to the U.S. in the 1970s. The San Jose Museum of Art recently commissioned Watanabe to take pictures of Japantown. Not finding inspiration in the landscape, he looked to the artifacts he saw in the museum from that time, according to Stan Yogi, one of the exhibit’s writers. Several of the artifacts pictured were unearthed from dumps at the camp.
The internment of Japanese-Americans living in the United States began shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. American citizens of Japanese heritage, as well as Japanese immigrants, were taken from their homes and imprisoned. They received a questionnaire to determine their allegiances, asking if civilians would return to Japan or be willing to serve in the U.S. military.
Those from the Lodi area were typically sent to Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas, according to Julie Blood, the collections and exhibits manager at the San Joaquin Historical Museum. However, people who answered the questionnaire incorrectly were treated as unfaithful to the U.S. and sent to Tule Lake.
Yogi helped put together the exhibit’s historical background and explained at a reception Sunday how he collected information, making several visits to Tule Lake. Much of his research has led to a greater appreciation of what his parents and grandparents went through at the camps.
“When Tule Lake closed, people had nothing — no jobs, no homes. People were born there and they died there. Those that died were cremated and relatives had to take their ashes home in coffee cans. Can you imagine bringing your loved ones’ remains home in a coffee can?” Yogi said.
Some physical artifacts, such as pins made out of shells found in the bed of Tule Lake, were given on loan to the exhibit as well. Much of it was left behind because they were not necessities, Yogi said. People took all they could carry back to their hometowns.
“It’s amazing what people created in the internment camps,” Moriwaki said, pointing out the pins and a wooden toolbox in one display case.
Other visitors were concerned with the camps’ historical impact, and were thoughtful about what can be learned from the panic following the Pearl Harbor attack.
“The question I’m left with is: Are we doing this today, and who are we doing this to? Who are our victims today?,” said Nancy Mellor of Lodi. “It’s a marvelous exhibit, and I’m proud that we have this here for everyone to see.”
This is the first museum the exhibit has visited on its traveling tour. Its next location is yet to be determined.
The exhibit will be open through Oct. 19 at the San Joaquin Historical Museum, located at Micke Grove Park.
Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@ lodinews.com.