Created for the 2019 Bellwether festival, curated by Elisheba Johnson
Plaster, plywood, acrylic paint, rope
My father was born in Minidoka, an American concentration camp, where much of Seattle’s Japanese American community was incarcerated for three and a half years during World War II. My family has lived in the shadow of this injustice ever since.Their struggle to live the American dream in a country that has continually seen them as foreigners inspired me to create artworks that recognize their quest for a dignified life under undignified conditions.
When I was growing up, my parents owned a trophy shop on Seattle’s Beacon Hill. It was a place where my sisters and I learned the value of independence and hard work. My adult contribution to the family business acknowledges my father’s wartime birth, along with the thousands of other children born in the ten American concentration camps. The trophy also reminds us that the U.S. today continues to traumatize immigrant families and place children behind chain link fences to live in atrocious conditions.
The plaque commemorates the back-breaking and dangerous work of the Japanese immigrants and their descendants, who cleared the land and made Bellevue suitable for farming and homes. After decades of anti-Japanese agitation, led by Eastside businessman Miller Freeman and others, Executive Order 9066 authorized the mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, including the 60 families who farmed Bellevue. The Freeman family was amongst the biggest beneficiaries of the appropriation of these farms. Today, the same family, headed by property developer Kemper Freeman Jr., remains a powerful force in Bellevue. This commemorative plaque is a reminder that America’s racial policies have always had many economic motives and beneficiaries.