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

The Closet Feminist Review of “The Worn Archive”

By: Emily Y.

A magazine and website founded by Serah-Marie McMahon (based back East), focused on fashion and personal style puts out its first book–just in time for Canada Day!

I recently won an award at work and landed myself a gift certificate to a major bookstore chain. I was torn–the Rookie Yearbook 2 or The Worn Archive, a collection of the best of the best of WORN Journal, a fave magazine published twice-yearly? It’s feminist, it’s smart, and the articles are accessible and entertaining. Naturally, we’re big fans here at The Closet Feminist, and unsurprisingly I went for it.

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Let me say up front it did not disappoint in any way. It’s an archive of the best WORN articles over the years–everything from clothes and gender identity to the history of stewardess fashion in Canada to how to tie a tie. I know, right?

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Image above found here.

This book (and it’s the size of a normal book, so it will fit in your work bag and travel-on luggage with ease) is beautifully illustrated, recycling the graphics used in the print versions that originally contained the article in question. It’s divided into nine sections focusing on the personal, the practical, art, object, design, history, identity, ideas, and fun respectively. The content ranges from light to heavy, introspective to outrageous, making it pretty much the best book that is a collection of your fave magazine articles.

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Image above from WORN found here.

I took the Worn Archive with me on a recent trip to Calgary, and loved how I could pick and choose what to read from it according to my mood. Before turning in for the night I could read up on wild life of Marchesa Casati, or while having tea in the afternoon ponder upon the revolutionary style of Marie Antoinette–there’s something for everyone and every mood, that’s for sure.

CPF_W12closet_llk_6mar14_large

Image above from WORN found here.

So def go out and get your copy–let people catch you reading it on the bus while you commute, or on the beach cuz the sun is a-shinin’. If you’re in need of a gift to give, give this one to your shopaholic friend, the history buff in your life, the traveler, or your artistic ones who fancy cool graphics and illustrations so we can all be Wornettes.

 

We Would Have Been Pantalette Suffragettes!

Scan 4

 

This is a scan from the latest issue of BUST*, their Dec/Jan 2014 issue. This gem is by “Museum of Femoribilia” columnist Lynn Peril.

Women, pants, and power have been mixed up together since suffragist Amelia Bloomer paraded around in “Turkish trousers” in the 1850s […] Women in pants and other imagined abominations of post-suffrage world (men watching babies or doing housework were two popular themes) were frequently depicted on the picture postcards of the era.

-from “Full Bloomers” by Lynn Peril

 

Women wearing pants are still an issue–just think of all the intense critiques focused on Hilary Clinton’s pantsuits, or how Kate Middleton very rarely makes a public appearance in anything but a skirt or a dress. Last December even, news broke that Mormon women were protesting the unspoken rule that they not wear pants to church. It just goes to show that what we wear is powerful and can be very political, and our ability to wear something often comes from the tireless activism of women before us. Here at The Closet Feminist, we’re pretty sure we would have been Pantalette Suffragettes ourselves, and are grateful for feminists getting out there and wearing what they want.

BONUS: Watch Hilary Swank, Anjelica Huston, and Vera Farmiga engage in some serious activism while looking seriously stylish as the suffragettes in Iron-Jawed Angels.

*Support feminist media where it exists! Subscribe to BUST here, follow Peril on Twitter here.

Gloss over This: Alanis Obomsawin

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It must be vindicating that she has become one of the most significant documenters of Canadian history and aboriginal politics. When she was a girl, she said, the framing of history was obscenely racist, and the textbooks were, “very well designed to make sure that our people would be considered inferior, ugly, dirt–people who went around doing massacres.” On the way home from school, “it didn’t matter which road I took. If they taught a class on the history of Canada, I knew I was going to get beat up that day. I was a child, so you think this is normal. But by the time I was 15, 16, I just was so angry, I felt that I had to be in the classroom, so that the children could hear other stories than these, and this is how I started. I went to hundreds of schools to sing and talk about history. Then, by the ’60s, somebody had made a short film on what I was doing, and from there the film board invited me to come over, and that’s when I began to make films.”

-Alanis Obomsawin in “I Tell What They Told Me” by Sheila Heti in Flare July 2013.

 

Image credit here

Punk: From Chaos To Couture, a Closet Feminist Review

By: Nicola Storey

Punk: Chaos To Couture Press Preview

No style of movement quite says F*** YOU to society and it’s social sanctions like Punk. Not only is punk all about empowerment through rebellion against society, but the original British movement belonged to the disenfranchised lower class. It was about disrupting the status quo, breaking rules, rebelling against the government, punching slut shaming in the face; it was (un) fashion. So when the exhibit entitled “Punk From Chaos to Couture” made its debut at the Met, The Closet Feminist decided to get an inside look to see if it could live up to all the hype.

The exhibit notes that, “through their political and environmental exhortations, they [the designers] seek, not only to build awareness but also, like punks, to bring about social revolution by questioning and threatening the status quo.”  Now, while the collection’s narratives succeeded in putting into words what “punk” represented, the very idea of designers creating high-fashion punk outfits is, in its essence, consumerist and simply un-punk. Indeed, the exposition featured what I can only assume were silver-plated safety pins for many garments, an idea that conflicts with the reality of the lower classes that brought punk to life; as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols explains, “Tears, safety pins, rips all over the gaff, third rate tramp thing, that was poverty really, lack of money. The area of your pants falls out, you just use safety pins.”

Indeed, the exhibit did get the hardware right, featuring everything from studs to safety pins, garbage bag dresses to cigarette burned garments, and even a boob shirt or two. My personal favourites included Christopher Bailey’s spiked and studded hardware leather jacket for Burberry, the infamous “God Save the Queen” T-shirt, Gareth Pugh’s garbage bag dresses, and a disgustingly accurate replica of the toilet at the iconic CBGB in New York. This being said,  the exhibit seemed like a whole lot of eye-candy: lacking real depth, yet narrating the foundation of punk views while featuring the music, style and quotes from punk icons such as Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Patti Smith and Debbie Harry with accompanying videos of their performances (edited by Nick Knight, a fashion photographer and film-maker.)

punk-chaos-to-couture3

Mick Jones of The Clash once stated that punk in its purest, original form only lasted for 100 days at the Roxy Club in London before the media got behind it and transformed it into its modern counterpart. The first punks didn’t buy their looks, but found objects and ascribed to them new meaning, creating a physical identity made up of objects and individual craftsmanship. While the exhibit was aesthetically pleasing and portrayed an accurately “punk” look, it lacked the anonymity of these punk innovators and their DIY creations.  Instead, the exposition focused on the work of designers who, while recreating the punk look, were far from punks themselves and ironically represented the type of consumerism which the movement fiercely fought against.

Keeping this in mind, it is therefore unsurprising that the exhibit has been thoroughly critiqued for draining punk’s original movement of meaning by much of the media, including the New YorkerThe Irish Times, and The Daily Beast. The idea of “punk couture” is fundamentally problematic because ‘couture’ implies high society, while punk advocates for classlessness: the rips and tears normally attributed to the impoverished and unfashionable becoming a symbol of empowerment. It wasn’t about consuming a fashion trend but about creating your own aside from the realm of money.

Speaking of which, The Met stayed true to punk on some fronts; the exhibition is open to the public, making it universally accessible to all classes. Furthermore, suggested prices allow you to choose how much, or how little you pay, meaning the viewership (and therefore the ownership of the exhibit), was not confined to the upper class in the same way that only the upper class owns couture.

Considering it was called Punk from Chaos to Couture for a reason, the designers seemed to paying homage to the style of punk by highlighting what punk had in common with couture. Yes, couture is surrounded by consumerism (which any true punk would hate), but what it has in common with the chaos of punk is that it creates unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. The curator of the exhibit, Andrew Bolton, explained, “this show is more about punk as an aesthetic… I’ve always felt there is such a strong similarity between haute couture and punk; punk was about creating one-off pieces. You might buy a jacket from a store and customize it; you’re the only one in the world with that jacket. So with Riccardo Tisci’s [creative director at Givenchy] work, I looked at pieces that, instead of using traditional haute couture embroidery or feathers or lacework or leather, are using punk materials and hardware.”

Punk-Chaos-Couture-Exhibition-Pictures

Ultimately, while this idea seems to have merit at first, the difference between punk and couture is found in the accessibility to each form, and what each represents. There is a gaping separation between an unemployed nobody creating their own DIY piece of clothing (say, drawing a pair of tits on a t-shirt or wearing a condom outside a pair of pants) as a big ole’ F*** YOU to consumerism and the status quo, and a designer creating an expensive, one-off couture piece: one form answers to no one, and the other is an ideal consumerist product that is bought to fit into a certain bourgeois ideal. As a couple audio clips at the exhibit explain,“freedom is the idea that I’m outside of society’s or anybody’s idea of how I should look.” Being punk is being “uninterested in the prescribed ideals of beauty based on purity, perfection and symmetry.” As for me? I took a cue from Debbie Harry of Blondie, leaving the exhibit feeling like I could conquer the world in my skivvies.

 

 Nicola Storey is a freelance writer based in Montreal. Follow her on Twitter @shortStorey.

Image credits here, here, and here.

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