Injustice and disbelief. Those are the words that come to mind as I’ve been working on my SFAI (Santa Fe Art Institute) art residency. I’ve been researching for two weeks the forced immigration of people of Japanese ancestry to the Santa Fe Concentration Camp. 4,555 men came through this prison and none of them had been charged with any wrong doing except that they had the face of the enemy. Even though I’ve made art on the subject of the Japanese American Concentration Camps over the years, it still hits me hard that in America such injustice and racism existed and unfortunately still does. How can America justify putting 120,000 innocents from babies to grandparents in prisons for 4 years? How can police kill people of color over and over? How can Guantanamo still exist?
I’ve started putting feelings and thoughts into color and texture, not worrying about where I am going, waiting to see what comes up. What is appearing to me are figures of men, many men, fathers and uncles and sons, who are in limbo, waiting, waiting, being in the unknown, not knowing if they will see their families again, not knowing if they will ever be released.
A community engagement project is bubbling, forming, rising….to embrace them, to remember them, to teach about them, to acknowledge all peoples’ stories of injustice.
It is always strange to go visit a place that does not immediately reflect the historical events that occurred there. Driving through the pleasant Casa Solana neighborhood in Santa Fe one would have no clue that before these houses were built, 4,555 men of Japanese ancestry were unjustly imprisoned here from 1942 to 1946. They were separated from their wives, children and families. Most lost their livelihoods and homes.
It is a beautiful Fall day. The light has a golden cast. We soon arrive to the Frank Ortiz Dog Park. It is made up of winding natural trails for hiking and dog walking. My local guides, Japanese American Sue Rundstrom and Artist Jerry West lead me up to a ridge above the dog park and we looked down on the Casa Solana neighborhood.
A large grey granite boulder with a plaque stands overlooking where the Department of Justice Santa Fe Concentration Camp once was.
The plaque reads:
At this site, due east and below the hill, 4555 men of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in a Department of Justice Internment Camp from March 1942 to April 1946. Most were excluded by law from becoming United States citizens and were removed primarily from the West Coast and Hawaii. During World War II, their loyalty to the United States was questioned. Many of the men held here without due process were long time resident religious leaders, businessmen, teachers fishermen, farmers, and others. No person of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. was ever charged or convicted of espionage throughout the course of the war. Many of the internees had relatives who served with distinction in the American Armed Forces in Europe and in the Pacific. This marker is placed here as a reminder that history is a valuable teacher only if we do not forget our past. Dedicated on April 20, 2002.
I asked my friends why there are no signs directing visitors to the marker and why it is not listed on the trail map in the dog park. They said this was done intentionally because there was fear of vandalism. That decision was made over 10 years ago. I wonder now if there could be more signage and acknowledgement of the historical marker? More on that issue, and how the controversial marker came to be is an interesting story.
A benefit of doing a residency here is the amazing and diverse group of creative people that #SFAI puts together, including people from different countries. Check more about the artists and writers I’ll be in residence with over the next month or two.
I’ll be out in the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico soon, starting my art residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. I am so honored to be selected to be at this “hub of creative engagement and social change”. It’s astounding to me that I will be creating where renowned past residents like Richard Diebenkorn John Baldessari, Elizabeth Murray, Susan Rothenberg, Donald Sultan, and Joel-Peter Witkin did so too. I’m excited to meet the other artists I will be making art with in the studio, cooking with in the shared kitchen, and exploring with in this beautiful place.
I am not a stranger to the beauty of the big skies and vast high desert of New Mexico. I am looking forward to being in the wide open space and smelling the pinion smoke and eating the tasty cuisine. I appreciate the earthy architecture and the friendliness of the people and the sacred culture of the Native people.
It will be the first time that I will be away for this long from my partner, family, friends and community, and my abundant ocean that has been full of dolphins and whales during this special year in Half Moon Bay, California.
I am full of anticipation for what’s to come, to meet my self in this land, to explore a familiar story in a different place, to continue the creative healing work for my culture and my family. I invite my ancestors to be with me on this journey.