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Camp Memorials, Silence, and Restlessness: A Dialogue with Brandon Shimoda - Part 2

Tacoma Buddhist Temple Obon candle lighting in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Tamiko Nimura)


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May 15, 2017

Hi Brandon,

I wonder if we both answer questions by adding to them, by writing more into them, by turning them into something else.

Yes, very much so. Thank you for writing and responding so eloquently to “How It Feels to Inherit Camp.” And the ending is absolutely about historiography—for all of us to have the questions of writing history feel more transparent. I think one of the reasons that people don’t like history sometimes is because it feels concrete, set in stone (sometimes literally), a set of facts to memorize, rather than a web of dynamic stories.

With camp I find that the more I scratch the surface, the more stories and layers I find. And maybe that’s why camp history still feels so unfinished and unresolved; there is so much more to be said.

* * * * *

Tacoma’s signage—it still exists in the heart at the moment. (I wrote this essay about how it felt to research Tacoma’s Nihonmachi)

During the research I have sometimes felt that I am not only speaking in a silence, but speaking against a silencing, an erasure. And so the writing is an act of mourning, a small act of healing, a small act of restitution.

It’s my long-term dream at the moment, but I do wonder if the signage then just becomes part of the landscape, no more or less interesting than a bus stop sign. How we can make memorials more dynamic, less static? I noticed just now that the verbs I use above are gerunds—actions in progress (speaking, silencing, mourning, healing)—and maybe that’s part of an answer. Repeated visits are one answer, but people seldom visit memorials more than once, do they?

So while I dream of signage, I also dream of things like a book. My husband and I created a free app for iPhone and Android, based on work that historian Michael Sullivan and I have written about the history of Tacoma. I hope it’s another way of bringing Tacoma’s Nihonmachi back to life in a sense, to another group of people. All of this is really in my head still, but I can practically see them. Now I want to go learn about Museum Studies!

* * * * *

You asked about the first time I wrote about incarceration. It must have been in fifth grade, because that’s the year I got to meet Yoshiko Uchida. She was part of a California program called the Golden Reader program, and representatives from elementary schools got to go meet her at a special luncheon. I got to go with my dad, and I wish I’d talked more with him about how that felt. Now that I think further, that was probably the year right after I’d read my dad’s unpublished camp memoir. Oh! And when I first felt the legacy of camp history: the project for the Golden Reader program was about family. I had to do some kind of report with my family tree. And I remember not being able to trace things very far back on my family tree (here’s that bit I reference in “How It Feels”) because my dad and his brother had to burn so many family papers before they went to camp.

And so I absolutely agree with you: camp history is not closed; the book is still being written. And so I wonder about the possibility of camp memorials and how we can encourage or design them to stay relevant for the living, or to contain the possibility of being revived, and even rejuvenated, several times over. Pilgrimages are one answer that i can think of—have you ever been on one?


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May 16, 2017

Hi Tamiko,

I’ve never been on an organized pilgrimage to an incarceration site.* Have you? I'd love to hear about where you went, who you went with, and your experience. I imagine that an essential part of the memorial aspect were the people, former incarcerees and their descendants, or visitors, like pilgrims (friends, strangers, photographers, writers). I wonder, of each pilgrimage, how many people have no familial connection to incarceration, but who are there for other (however equally important) reasons. It would be interesting to interview them …

*(I have been on many un- or disorganized pilgrimages to incarceration sites, and am thinking about attending the Heart Mountain pilgrimage this July.)

It makes me think: I often visit memorials with one intention, only to be lured, intuitively, maybe even by the memorial itself, into another. Or, the intention is foiled. Or re-vised. Either violently or subtly led, into an unexpected place, which becomes, then, the memorial. I’m interested in who is there, and how they are behaving. I visited the atomic bomb memorial in Nagasaki in 2011. There are actually many atomic bomb memorials in Nagasaki, but specifically the black pillar at the hypocenter. I was there with my partner (the poet Dot Devota). As we were walking around the pillar, I began observing the father and daughter who were also walking around the pillar. They were both white, of unknown nationality. The father had brown hair, the daughter had blond hair. And they were both holding an ice cream cone. They were eating ice cream. Quietly. Contemplatively. Somewhat blankly. There was a woman about thirty yards away with a small cart selling rosewater ice cream. It was late July. I wrote about that visit here. Now the memory of visiting Nagasaki is inseparable from the image of a father and daughter holding ice cream cones.

I don’t know how this relates to your question about how memorials, camp memorials in particular, can be encouraged or designed to contain the possibility of being revived, and even rejuvenated. (You also ask: How can we make memorials more dynamic, less static?) Memorials must be infused with enough emotional and spiritual and intuitive and intellectual, even critical, content, that they evolve to develop minds of their own. That they separate from their designers/makers. They must be created; they must be procreated, birthed. And they must be imbued with a kind of independence, autonomy. That is why I love the word you used: encourage.

How can we encourage a camp memorial …

Thank you for sharing your essay, Tacoma’s Nihonmachi Is in the Heart, by the way. I am especially captivated by this:

I discover that while reading this history even a simple directory can undo me.

And how it relates to what you said earlier:

With camp I find that the more I scratch the surface, the more stories and layers I find.

Excavation. Coming undone. There is a kind of compassion, of empathy, that is required for genuine memorial work. These two moments in your writing and thinking seem to suggest what I’m envisioning as a descent into history. Maybe even literally: going into the earth, into the grave, permitting the mind and body’s full vulnerability there, for what might be engendered, resurrected. You also say, and beautifully:

Maybe to some this will sound strange, but writing this history feels like conjuring a place into existence again just by writing about it. Maybe this is the magic of history writing.

Because now you’ve introduced even more evocative terms: conjuring and magic. I don’t mean to get carried away here. But … yes, maybe I do. Maybe I mean to get carried away. Maybe we HAVE to get carried away.

To return to your question of how can we make memorials more dynamic, less static? I think that we are memorial beings. Our lives, our existences, are memorials to all the things we’ve experienced and that have been experienced by previous generations, our ancestors. Where do we go from here? To create (to encourage) a memorial without first creating (and encouraging) ourselves, is to propagate the opposite instead. Not even ruins, which are, I think, crucial to the ongoing narrative, but vacuums, voids, sites of foreclosure, erasure, annihilation, forgetting.



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May 16, 2017

Hi Brandon,

Tule Lake Memorial in 2014 (Photo courtesy of Tamiko Nimura)

Yes! I went on a Tule Lake pilgrimage a few years ago. It was transformative. As you suggested, a big part of it was the people and the community. I highly recommend going on one. It’s a space that’s committed to listening and telling stories. Everywhere, everyone, everything was overflowing with story.

I wrote about it here.

And now that I’m rereading that essay, I’m struck by how unresolved it (both the pilgrimage and the essay) feels. That was intentional, in the writing. But I’m thinking about our conversations thus far about silence, and memory, and memorials, and the lack of resolution.

So maybe that’s a place for me to “not-end” (as my friend Vince says) my part of the conversation. The power of camp history (blessing/curse?) is that it continues. Here in Seattle, the Fred Korematsu case was cited as part of the 9th circuit questioning and arguments against the administration's travel ban. And that same day, a plaque was installed in the King County jail where Gordon Hirabayashi spent time. And speaking of memory, I’m two days away from this Day of Remembrance that I’ve been planning in Tacoma. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Where do we go from here, indeed?



© 2017 Tamiko Nimura

Brandon Shimoda camps DOR EO9066 memorials writer