Green and Orange Bands Study What Sparked Japanese Internment during WWII

Back during the Heart Arc, the Green and Orange bands visited the de Young Museum for the Weapons of Mass Seduction: The Art of Propaganda exhibit, which displayed propaganda art from WWI and WWII. Semi-inspired by this trip, Green and Orange decided to embark on a deeper exploration of what sparked the United States to get involved with World War II. From there, we took an even closer look at the question of what sparked the U.S.’s decision to intern hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans for several years during the War, an event that strongly impacted the West Coast of the United States, but is often not the focus in WWII discussions.

Apollo, Sadie and Soleil at the de Young’s Weapons of Mass Seduction exhibit during Heart Arc.

Because California was and continues to be one of the most densely populated states for Asian-Americans in the U.S., our Bands were very lucky to be able to attend so many field trips which specifically documented and paid tribute to the people and places affected by Japanese Internment. To kick off our study, we went to the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, where students learned not only about internment, but also about the history of Japanese immigration to the United States and even the specific history of Japanese people in San Jose. One of our docents, Yoshiko Kanazawa, was interned as a child, and so students were able to directly ask her questions about her experience. From Yoshiko, we heard not only about the lack of privacy at camp, which she considered to be one of the most challenging aspects, but also the variety of attitudes Japanese-Americans had towards being interned. For Yoshiko, her family encouraged her and her siblings to maintain a positive attitude and trust that they would only get stronger from their time in camp. She explained that other people at the camp were much angrier at the U.S. and felt that their imprisonment was hugely unjust and wanted to fight back, which lead to disagreements and resentment amongst the Japanese Americans.

Yoshiko Kanazawa giving a tour to Green Band at JAMsj.

The Green and Orange bands also attended the EXCLUSION: The Presidio’s Role in World War II Japanese American Incarceration exhibit in the Presidio, which gave students the opportunity to examine primary sources and artifacts related to our study. For example, the exhibit contained replicas of the first order issued by the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army Wartime Civil Control Administration to people of Japanese ancestry instructing them on their evacuation. These documents were published in the Presidio, and students engaged in an activity where they had to reflect on what it would feel like to see such a poster that may target their own ethnicity or background.

Blaise, Lars, Emilio and Lola looking for resources at the EXCLUSION exhibit in the Presidio.

Back in the Band Space, Green and Orange drew from a number of different sources on the events of Japanese-American internment in order to broaden and expand our understanding of these historical circumstances. We read My Dog Teny by Yoshito Wayne Osaki—a story about a young boy who had to leave his family dog behind when relocated to a camp, analyzed excerpts from A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn which looked at the events leading up to WWII with a critical eye, watched historical videos that presented a more objective perspective, watched a Ted Talk by George Takei who was interned as a young child, and even listened to a song by Fort Minor which described the artist’s grandfather’s tragic experience in Manzanar. Perhaps our favorite source throughout the study was the historical-fiction graphic novel, Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner.

One of our in-school resources.

Gaijin told and illustrated the story of a young half-Japanese, half-white boy named Koji from San Francisco who is interned with his white mother at the Alameda Downs. Due to his biracial heritage, Koji is seen as an outsider, or “gaijin,” by people both inside and outside of the camp. While dealing with the hardships of being interned—including being bullied, missing his father, and feeling untrusting towards his mother, Koji struggles to find his identity. Through our reading of Gaijin, Greenies analyzed the book’s themes, images, language and characters, allowing us to further understand that, like Yoshiko had mentioned at the museum, every Japanese-American who was interned by the U.S. had their own individual experiences and responses to the events.

Sully (before he moved to Teal Band) reading Gaijin.

Our culminating field trip for our Japanese Internment exploration was our three-day journey to Lone Pine, CA, where we had the unique opportunity to visit Manzanar, one of the few camps (now a National Historic site) located in California. Driving roughly 10 hours, the brave students, collaborators and volunteer-parents stayed two nights in the town of Lone Pine, located in the Owens Valley, and spent one full day visiting Manzanar. At the Historical Site in Independence, CA, toured by Park Ranger Alisa, the students of Green and Orange were able to not only see the actual location of the camp, which was a dusty desert surrounded by the stunning and colossal mountains of the Sierra Nevadas, but also go inside the restructured barracks, latrine, and even have lunch in the original mess hall. In the visitor’s center, students learned about different individuals who were kept at Manzanar, and the struggles, tragedies, joys and successes they experienced during their time interned.

The Green and Orange Bands at Manzanar in Independence, CA.