Colorizing a dark chapter in American history

COLORS OF CONFINEMENT: RARE KODACHROME PHOTOGRAPHS OF JAPANESE AMERICAN INCARCERATION IN WORLD WAR II

COLORS OF CONFINEMENT: RARE KODACHROME PHOTOGRAPHS OF JAPANESE AMERICAN INCARCERATION IN WORLD WAR II

COLORS OF CONFINEMENT: RARE KODACHROME PHOTOGRAPHS OF JAPANESE AMERICAN INCARCERATION IN WORLD WAR II

Edited by Eric L. Muller (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill in association with Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University, 2012, 136 pp., $35, cloth)

This volume is at once a wonderful and rare addition to be added to the already thousands of existing images (photos and home movies) of the Nikkei experience while being incarcerated during World War II.

What makes these 65 photos rare is that Bill Manbo took them, in color, and that they survived with the same vibrancies as the day they were processed into slides decades ago.

Along with rare color photos are three essays by academicians, Eric Muller, Jasmine Alinder and Lon Kurashige. Muller provides the all-important contextually biographical information that locates Bill Manbo and his family prior to Dec. 7, 1941 and subsequent movements, activities, and events at Heart Mountain, Wyo.

Kurashige takes an interesting tack in “interpreting” the meaning of several color sides on the celebration of Bon Odori (showing colorful kimono and obi), sumo, and people who were clearly outside of the barbed wire fences. Kurashige first lays out a cursory review of older historians who have presented the War Relocation Authority as “victimizer” (making Nikkei “victims”) and some younger historians who have come to view the WRA as “protectors,” assimilationists, and others who believed in promoting “cultural pluralism” (Kurashige’s view). He points to the color photographs of Obon as a “common feature of prewar” Japanese American communities and sumo as evidence of the WRA’s cultural pluralist tendency (actually Obon was not a common feature in the Japanese American community until the mid-1930s on the mainland).

As further evidence of the WRA as protector, Kurashige points to a photo of young Billy standing on the barbed wire fence and because Japanese were allowed to leave the incarceration centers demonstrated that the WRA officials were neither happy triggered gate-keepers nor victimizer.

Perhaps the WRA figured out what many Japanese Americans understood clearly: where were they going to escape to and how easy will it be to “fit in” with the general population? Of course, the other possibility for allowing things Japanese behind barbed wires was a calculation made by the WRA of the consequences of not letting Nikkei exercise their “agency” when it came to their language, culture, and religion (remembering the riots almost from the beginning).

In any event the rare reproduction of color slides is worth the price of admission.

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