Excerpts from Landscapes of Injustice Panel: Japanese Internment During WW2

Above: “Truck transporting Japanese Canadian men to Tashme camp”. Image and caption found here.

On Saturday, January 14th I attended a panel called “Dispossession and Internment” put on by Landscapes of Injustice at the Vancouver Public Library downtown.

Landscapes of Injustice, in their own words, is a group that:

“[…] is dedicated to recovering and grappling with this history. We will research and tell the history of the dispossession and engage Canadians in a discussion of its implications. This history still matters. Members of our society continue to be unjustly marginalized, differences among us can still seem unsurmountable, and future moments of national crisis will inevitably arise. Our team shares the conviction that Canadian society will be better equiped to address these challenges if we continue to engage the most difficult aspects of our past.”

I was moved and shocked by what the panelists had to say as their experiences were shared by my own grandparents and great-grandparents. I live tweeted comments from the panelists during the event, I expand on what I tweeted below.

From Mary Kitigawa

“They [the Canadian government] called it a ‘program’ but it was really a slave labour situation…it was terrible”

 

“We paid for our own imprisonment and by the end of the war we were all destitute”

Above, panelist and local Vancouver activist Mary Kitigawa was referring to how Canadians of Japanese descent had their savings slowly depleted by the government during World War Two. Having had their personal property seized as well, these people had nothing to return to once the war was over and had to start over again.

Kitigawa also spoke of one of the first places her family were sent to be interned, a farm in Alberta. She said of the farmer:

“He said ‘all Japs should be treated as criminals,’ and that he had every intention of treating us as criminals”

From Tosh Kitigawa

Above: “Japanese Canadians being processed in Slocan”. Image and caption found here.

Panelist Tosh Kitigawa said the political climate in BC was especially hostile:

“Racist politicians in British Columbia were relentless in trying to remove Japanese-Canadians from the province”

He also noted the long-lasting effects of institutional racism saying,

“The war ended in 1945, but we [my family] were under house arrest until 1948”.

I believe it was also Tosh Kitigawa who remarked on how, after the war, the parent generation of those interned had to return to work. This was challenging, because they were all older. This, combined with the continued atmosphere of racial prejudice against Japanese Canadians, meant a lot of grown men and women ended up with menial jobs that could barely provide for their families. This was especially degrading as many of them had had successful careers before the war–an entire lifetime of work erased by the Canadian government and their racist communities.

Hostility on Saltspring Island after WW2

Mary Kitigawa’s family returned to Saltspring Island after their internment, and were met with extreme hostility from their community, RCMP, and even their own church. I was especially horrified by these stories–the war was over, but prejudice clearly still ran deep in our Canadian communities.

“The RCMP said to us ‘the services of the RCMP are not for people of your race,’ and so we felt very unprotected.”

 

“I will personally come down here and wipe out your family”

The latter threat was uttered by an RCMP officer to Kitigawa’s brother. Upon his return home, he managed to start and run a successful business (against all odds, I might add). His success rubbed other local business owners and the RCMP the wrong way, and he received death threats like the one above if he did not cease running a strong business.

Above: “Group of Japanese Canadian girls participating in Bon-Odori (summer festival) at Greenwood camp.” Image and caption found here.

Can you even imagine? It just goes to show that policing bodies like the RCMP and police even here in Canada have a long history of openly discriminating against minorities, a racist tradition that continues today.

Kitigawa said her family very regularly received threats of death and violence. She said her parents were so brave for returning and staying despite this outrageously volatile environment.

“The Anglican church we were all baptized in said we were no longer welcome, and they felt that we were evil people”

The above anecdote from Mary Kitigawa was especially heartbreaking for me. She said she and her siblings were all baptized in this church, and her family were regular churchgoers before the war. She commented on how, before her family was interned, they had even helped to raise money for a new organ for the church.

Despite her family’s commitment and involvement to their church, their own religious community had been poisoned by the racist atmosphere WW2 had in Canada, and her family were shunned upon their return. That must have been devastating; a place of worship provides strength and hope for so many, to be rejected by your own church after such an ordeal must have been a blow to the spirit.

Overall, the panel was very moving and informative. I’m glad to see such work continues in Canada, even decades after this dispossession took place. The relevance of this project to the government’s attitude and care towards minorities cannot be understated–we must remember so we don’t repeat past mistakes.

Learn more about Landscapes of Injustice and the Japanese-Canadian internment during World War Two here.

All images throughout from unidentified photographers, do not reflect any of the panelists quoted in this post. Images and descriptions found on the UBC Digitizers Blog, here.

Further Reading: Racism in Academia, Then and Now

Lightning-Fast Forgiveness, Racism, & Dsquared2

Fashion (and really, the world in general when it comes to the wayward ways of errant men) has a tendency to sort of wrist-slap designers when they screw up, and then lavish them with praise the second they correct their course.

Take, for example, London-based and Canadian-born designers Dsquared2.

For the Fall 2015 season Dsqaured2 showed a highly-offensive collection that made waves for its extreme cultural appropriation and general racism:

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Above: from the racist Fall 2015 collection of Dsquared2.

Then, they rather repeated this mistake with their Fall 2016 collection, sending models down the catwalk with “Victorian Samurai” outfits. The collection got hardly any press, good or bad. Perhaps the world was just tired of Dsquared2’s continual, lazy, racist designs.

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Above: The Fall 2016 Dsquared2 collection featuring “Victorian Samurai” looks.

The tides turned for Dsquared2 with their recent Spring 2017 collection, which was praised and lauded by fashion reporters. In other words, the disgrace period for Dsquared2 was all too brief, and the fashion world quick to forgive some pretty serious offenses.

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Above: Dsquared2 Spring 2017

While the collection was pretty fun (pictured above), it’s dissapointing because it proves that they can design a collection that is not racist, but they have clearly chosen not to for previous seasons. Sigh, #whiteprivelege in fashion, amiright?

 

 

BONUS: More on Dsquared2’s super-racist Fall 2015 collection

Dsquared² x First Nations Appropriation at Milan Fashion Week

Dsquared²’s Super-Racist Fall 2015 Collection Featured in Canadian Fashion Magazines

How Distasteful: The Racist Dsquared² Collection Makes Another Appearance in a Canadian Fashion Magazine

Feminist Designers: Strange Women Society

The Closet Feminist’s third instalment of Feminist Designers interviews Whitney, founder and head designer for Indianapolis-based Strange Women Society. SWS promises “curious good for curious folk,” and is inspired by all things magic and strange.

What inspired you to start your line Strange Women Society?

The catalyst for Strange Women Society was the frustration I felt with my day job designing items that didn’t really interest me, and oftentimes felt like the antithesis of what I wanted to create.

This boredom/frustration lead me to creating a few textile art pieces for a local art gallery. The piece I made for the show was titled Strange Women, and was centred on the idea of the wild woman, the witchy woman, and the mysteries and myths that surround womanhood and femininity. Thoughts and ideas on this concept snowballed, and I ended up with more designs than I had time to create.

Most found themselves in a sketchbook that was unearthed a few weeks later resurrecting my enthusiasm for the project.

In talking to several woman that connected with the pieces I had made, I realized that maybe there WERE other weirdos out there like me who often felt removed from normality, but who didn’t see this as a negative. I decided to make some of the ideas in my sketchbook happen, and hoped that other people would connect with them in some small way. I didn’t really have a clear vision of what I wanted to create, I just knew I wanted to make strange items for my fellow strange ladies, giving them a space to celebrate their strangeness.

What is it about fashion that inspires your feminist activism?

I think fashion is a perfect place to see both the failures and successes of our culture when it comes to equality. There are obvious issues with representation in the fashion industry. Let’s be real, this sucks… but at the same time I’ve witnessed so many small indie labels breaking the stereotypical mould and showing what the fashion industry could be in the future, and this excites me.

Industry aside, fashion from a personal perspective can also be incredibly revolutionary. Wearing something to purposely challenge a societal expectation is a very visible way to confront outdated ideas and expectations.

Even something that seems simple (you know, just wearing whatever the hell you want) can be incredibly liberating on a personal level. Apples, hourglasses, pears, whatever, it’s ridiculous the amount of pressure that is put on us to feel we have to dress a certain way. At the end of the day, who cares, be revolutionary. Be an apple, wear a body con dress, be a man, wear a miniskirt, be a size 22, wear short shorts. Making the decision to stop allowing the fashion industry or beauty magazines to tell us what is okay and what is wrong is an act of revolution in and of itself.

In your opinion, what is the future of feminism within the fashion and personal style sphere?

There is so much momentum in the self-love and sister love movements within the indie fashion sector that I think it’s only going to continue growing. My hope for the future is that more and more people will be able to find clothes they like, will see themselves represented in more brands, and will feel comfortable enough to wear what they want.

What is currently inspiring you as a designer?

I’m always moved by the idea of the mysterious or mythic, so both old and new interpretations of this has always intrigued me. I’ve also always been fascinated by the illustrations and poetry of Edward Gorey.

What have you learned working on Strange Women Society that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?

How to run a business! I didn’t originally set out to start a business, and I have to be honest in saying that it is so much more work than I could have imagined.

I think the romance of starting your own business, especially in a creative field, typically focuses on the creative end. Making a thing, having other people enjoy the thing, and getting paid for the thing. People don’t often day dream about the late nights trying to figure out inventory, or trying to figure out your taxes at 6 am after three consecutive days without sleep. I love it. It’s hard, really hard, and I’m still learning, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Oh! Also! I’ve learned that there are so many rad, supportive women, and artist communities online. I’m not a social media buff in my personal life, so I had no idea these communities existed until I got involved on Instagram with Strange Women Society. I’m honestly in awe of the other incredibly talented, kind, and supportive people I’ve met, and I can’t say enough good things about the community I’ve found on Instagram.

What is next for  Strange Women Society?

Currently I’m working on building a new site, designing more accessories, and teaming up with other awesome artists for a few collaboration items to be added late summer/early fall!

Do you have any advice for folks seeking to start a feminist business?

Just do it. There are going to be a million reasons why you can talk yourself out of doing something you want to do. Don’t let that happen. All of your insecurities will resurface, and you will more than likely fail a few times, but it’s okay. Just keep moving forward. Doing something, keeping with continual forward movement, is the best way to accomplish whatever it is that you are trying to do. Feeling the fear and uncertainty and not allowing that to stop you is the most important thing I’ve ever learned to do.

Women seem to be totally dominating the rise of awesome pin designs. Why do you think that is?

Women are amazing artists! I also think that there is this message of supporting each other and lifting each other up that’s allowed for the rise of so many talented women in the field of pin design.

Instead of competition there is an amazing community of women who have already achieved success in their industry, helping other talented women achieve success, too. There was never a lack of talented women artists, I just think that the atmosphere as of late has allowed for an explosion of incredible designers to be seen and find success among the online communities.

Strange Women Society seems to rely a lot on the idea of a girl gang. What makes the concept of a girl gang important to your work?

Everything! The concept of a girl gang reminds me of the riot grrrl or girl power movements of times past: the idea that we can all be successful. That another woman’s success, talent, or beauty doesn’t take away from our own; it’s not a threat, you know? We should be celebrating our successes, and I think this concept is central to the idea of a girl gang. Sticking together, lifting each other up, celebrating each other’s achievements.  

 

Check out Strange Women Society’s awesome Instagram here.

Want to show your love for Strange Women? Check out their online shop here.

 

All images used with permission from Strange Women Society

Music x Style: Adia Victoria is Just So Brilliant & Cool

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I was super excited to see Adia Victoria perform at The Cobalt last weekend here in Vancouver.  I’ve been hooked on her music since I heard Stuck In the South. Her debut album, Beyond the Bloodhounds, is easily in my top five albums of 2016 so far.

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Adia Victoria is more than just a very talented musician and performer. She is an activist (check out her Facebook), and dedicated the song in her set “Howlin’ Shame” to the victims of the Orlando shooting.

“You are American, but you are also black and your inner life is not often reflected in society because you’re extremely stereotyped and you’re put in this very small box—especially as a black woman. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to get into music. I remember how important it was for me to see other black woman making art, to know that was a possibility for me. I want to make art so I can potentially reach other black girls who are not Beyoncé, girls who don’t see themselves in Rihanna—not that there’s anything wrong with these women.”

  • Adia Victoria in an interview with Live Nation TV here

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She wore all white, both before she got on stage (she was milling about the crowd) and while performing. I just had to do a take on her outfits. I myself have already purchased a long white shirt/dress like the one she wore during the performance because she looked so cool and amazing.

 

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Slim tee, 320 CAD / H M long jacket, 37 CAD / Dondup white shorts, 160 CAD / Buckle shoes, 39 CAD

 

adia victoria 2

Feminist Designers: SheNative

The Closet Feminist’s second instalment of Feminist Designers interviews Devon Fiddler, Chief Changemaker and Designer for SheNative Goods Inc. SheNative is based out of Saskatoon, and is a socially driven, handbag and accessories brand that aims to empower the Indigenous women.

SheNative_June20161

What inspired you to start your line SheNative?

I started SheNative out of a childhood dream of becoming a designer, my own life experiences as an Indigenous women, and my first career experiences. When I started SheNative, I had no fashion design background, little sewing experience, and went for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics (Aboriginal Public Administration).

After completing my degree, I worked as a Business Development Coordinator, working with clients on reserve who wanted to start a business. This sparked my passion of entrepreneurship, and brought my childhood dream swirling back into my head. I saw other entrepreneurs starting companies with a mission to have a positive social impact, and I decided that I wanted to start a fashion business that gives back.

I grew up out of a lot of negative experiences that many Indigenous women in Canada face, including seeing and experiencing family violence, being taken advantage of, domestic violence and more. I still see many of my friends and family struggle with what they went through; these experiences are so common among Indigenous women.

Through SheNative, I want to bring light into lives by showing the power of positivity, and showing other women that you can find it in yourself to make changes and overcome any negative experience you’ve had. I try to show that myself by practice, living healthy, and following my dream. I try to bring positive inspiration into the lives of others through the initiatives that we create in SheNative (Her 4 Directions Fashion Incubator), inspirational words, and showcasing what other Indigenous women are doing.

SheNative_June20162

SheNative focuses a lot on affirmations, positive thinking, social media campaigns beyond marketing, etc. Are there plans to evolve SheNative into a broader lifestyle brand?

Yes, I think that’s where we are heading with our brand. We are still figuring out what’s working and what’s not working. We are very new, so it takes time to build.

I started out with the idea that I would create very specific products. Initially, I wanted to start a clothing line that was more geared towards professional working women. After consulting with a product development company in Toronto, we found that it didn’t matter what we created: SheNative was going to be a company that empowered Indigenous women.

Initially, SheNative started by designing a handbag collection instead of a clothing line. Working with companies that hold ethical production standards, along with quality workmanship is really important to me.

Since starting, SheNative has really evolved as a brand, from quality handbags to graphic t-shirts. Our line goes from a higher-end to a fairly low price point. We are looking to build more products in the medium price point range. I think becoming a broader lifestyle brand would make the most sense for us moving forward.

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What have you learned working on SheNative that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?

The fashion portion especially has been a big learning curve for me, and I am still learning a lot! I still leave the sewing to those who are best at it. I found the best way to learn is by just jumping in, doing, and being hands-on instead of taking technical courses in design.

For the business-side of things, I’ve entered as many entrepreneurship courses and classes, both online and in classrooms that I can find. I think you have to learn from mistakes along the way and pivot when things are not working.

What is a typical day for you as the head designer and founder of SheNative?

I am currently trying to create a typical day for me. At first it was chaotic; we had a lot of interviews and random media requests during our launch. Then, I started getting speaking requests, especially in the Indigenous community, as well as invitations to many different events like trade shows. At this time, I would often forget to eat, and stay up working on business stuff at all hours of the night.

Now, I’m establishing a bit of a routine. I wake up in the morning, have my breakfast, take my dog out for a walk, check emails, and then head out to our shared studio space. At the studio, I take on whatever tasks come our way from there including operational, sales, design, etc, which takes me to the end of the day; only sometimes do I take evening meetings. I also sit on three committees, so that takes of some of my free time. I now go to sleep at a decent hour, and always make time for myself.

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Your brand seems very dynamic with regards to how you reach your customer base—trade shows, craft fairs, farmers markets, pop up shops, conferences, and fashion week in addition to an online shop. How has this versatility affected/impacted SheNative?

We have been exploring what works and doesn’t work [in an attempt to find] our target market. Through this, we have found our target market is different than we thought it would be; you never know until you jump in and try. I have to admit, trying too much at once has had a negative impact on the business. After finding out something doesn’t work, you need to be strong at saying ‘no’, and moving forward with what actually works.

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SheNative recently completed a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, congratulations to the SheNative team! Be sure to follow SheNative and watch this exciting Canadian brand grow!

Shop SheNative here

SheNative on Facebook

SheNative Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter

Images by Axis Imagery. All images used with permission by SheNative

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