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

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

 

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Where Are You, Perfect Black Skirt?

I wear skirts or dresses 90% of the time. My latest sartorial obsession is hunting for the perfect black skirt for summer. I have a few good winter ones, but they are a touch too short for the office. Here is what I’m looking for in The Perfect Black Skirt:

  1. Must be all black, no patterns or other colourful details.
  2. A appropriate length, so no shorter than a few inches above the knee
  3. A breathable fabric
  4. NOT 100% jersey/jersey spandex
  5. Must be a-line or just not a bandage skirt or pencil skirt
  6. Machine-washable
  7. Must be able to find in-stores or ship to Canada without extra duty fees, etc.

I have not had much luck I’m afraid. All the stores I’ve checked have moved onto breezy linen dresses and such. Why is no one else looking for an excessively practical black skirt at this time of year??

Here are a few contenders that have come close.

All these Club Monaco skirts are cute, but all are either dry-clean only or ship won’t ship from the states.

CheskaSweaterSkirt_ClubMonaco HannelinaSkirt_ClubMonaco ClubMonaco_NellaPleatedSkirt

These Aritzia skirts weren’t too bad. I only found a couple of them in-store, and the quality wasn’t the best. I might consider ordering the ones that I found online but not in-store that met my criteria.

SureauSkirt_Aritzia Aritzia_GabrielleSkirt

Maybe I should just learn to sew and make my perfect black skirt….what about you folks, any recommendations for where I can find this elusive wardrobe staple?

 

 

 

 

Feminist Designers: Vancouver’s own Only Child Apparel

Welcome to The Closet Feminist’s new series, Feminist Designers! This interview series will be focusing on the work and designs of clothing labels and fashion designers that explicitly identify as feminist. 

I am super-excited to kick off this series with Madison Reid of Only Child Apparel, a feminist t-shirt company based right here in Vancouver. Reid discusses the importance of diversity in fashion, giving back to her communities through her work, and what is next for this awesome local line.

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The Closet Feminist: What inspired you to start your line Only Child Apparel?

Madison Reid: I was volunteering at WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women) while working at a custom t-shirt company, and would daydream about making my own feminist designs.

I did searches online and found the feminist shirt market was seriously lacking in stylish designs. I consider myself a fashionable person, and I’m a graphic designer who loves great typography. I wanted to make shirts that people wouldn’t want to throw out after wearing one time. 

I was terrified to take my Etsy shop live. I had such anxiety about putting myself out there. I took the risk, opened the shop with just 2 designs, shared it on Instagram, and it has been an unbelievably rewarding experience. My first Etsy sale was December 2013, maybe a month or so after I opened it. The following December I made my 100th sale.

I wanted to try this as a fun hobby to do outside of my full time job, and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve sold shirts to people all over the world, and I love knowing there’s a person all the way in South Carolina, Germany, or New Zealand who cares about the issues I care deeply about. And now they own a piece of my art!

Why did you choose the name “Only Child Apparel”?

I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking on the name of my brand, so I named it after myself; I’m an only child. I also didn’t want to give it an overtly feminist name. I wanted to keep it neutral.

What is it about fashion that inspires your feminist activism?

Wearing a political statement on your body lets others know who you are, what you care about, and that they are not alone. It can connect you to others. It can inspire you to keep fighting, and it reminds you that you are not alone. We are working collectively to change the world.

I’ve had the occasional comment on Instagram from anti-feminists who stop by to say “Wearing a shirt that says ‘Smash The Patriarchy’ does absolutely nothing.” Yeah, no, I disagree with that. I feel like the people who say this are the same people who declare that we have achieved equality in the West—it’s easy to say that when you’re a white, heterosexual, cisgender male. Try saying that to a transgender woman, a Muslim woman, or an overweight woman, and they might tell you a different story.

There are obviously many other ways to be a feminist activist that are more impactful than what I’m doing. This is the path that inspires me most and is how I want to contribute. I’ve learned from this experience that if/when I quit the shirt biz and move onto something else, I am an activist and will keep making feminist art.

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

Our generation is very conscious of our impact on the planet. We want to make our purchases thoughtfully. You see more brands popping up that say their clothing is ethically made in the US or Canada, and I consider that feminist fashion. More gender neutral clothing brands would be considered feminist fashion, as well as more inclusive choices of models in fashion shows. I think some great things have been happening in the fashion industry recently in regards to all of these.

What have you learned working on Only Child Apparel that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?

I had no idea what this project would bring to my life. It has made me into a business person. It has forced me to push through the fear, because in doing so I might be rewarded by connecting with people in ways I never thought possible. I’ve suddenly connected with friends over Facebook I haven’t seen in years, because it turns out they care about gender equality too.

It has taught me self care because there truly are days I’m too overwhelmed with life and I just need to take a social justice break, and not look at my Facebook or Instagram. This experience has taught me a lot about pushing past those anxious feelings, even though I have them a lot. I have so much fear when I expose my heart [through my designs]. I get anxious about being targeted by a troll. I fear crossing the line and offending someone. I get anxious asking people to model for me. Occasionally, I get so overwhelmed I just want to cash in my chips and run out the door.

We are living in a difficult yet exciting time. When I started the Instagram account for Only Child Apparel, I followed a bunch of accounts that share feminist memes, and I eventually realized that the majority of them are run by teenagers. I felt a bit funny following them because I’m a wee bit older, but I couldn’t help but be blown away by these kids. There’s a community of enlightened, informed, and motivated teens who share amazing posts about self love, gender identity, race, etc. They are so fed up with the bulls**t patriarchal system. What’s with all this trashing of millennials these days? I wish I had been that smart when I was sixteen!

[Ultimately,] working on Only Child Apparel has taught me to focus on the positive rather than the negative because the positive truly always outweighs the negative.

Finally, I’m beyond fortunate to have friends who support me tremendously.

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What is a typical day for you as the head designer and founder of Only Child Apparel?

I work a day job, so that’s usually what I’m doing Mon-Fri, and I make a few trips to the post office after work each week. Evenings often involve Twitter searches (love/hate it) for interesting articles I can share on Facebook. I use Facebook for more thought-provoking topics that I might say a few words on. Instagram is mostly just for sharing brand pictures or silly stuff. A couple nights a week I will browse Pinterest for inspiration for new designs, or for my photo shoots. I sketch in my sketchbook some nights; the majority of my designs for Only Child Apparel have been hand lettered.

I did a couple markets in 2014/2015, but because of the political content of what I’m selling, and my tendency to get a bit flustered when I’m met with hostility, I haven’t done one in over a year. The trendier markets in Vancouver serve alcohol, and I’m not interested in a hostile confrontation with someone who has been drinking.

What is next for Only Child Apparel?

I’m at a crossroads with this business. I didn’t know what to expect when I first started, and since this has been so successful and rewarding it’s given me pause to think about where I want to take this.

I think I want to start making this into a fashion brand, not just t-shirts. I did, in fact, study fashion design at VCAD when I first moved to Vancouver in 2010… for about 8 weeks, then remembered I hate sewing, and decided to study graphic design instead.

I have really talented friends I made in school that keep me connected to the world of fashion. They are very aware of some of the ludicrousness of the fashion industry, and want to do good things like make the industry more inclusive. I want to think I’ll collaborate with them at some point.

I want to do more local, handmade clothing. Possibly vintage items and non-clothing items. Collaborating more with other artists. Just about anything is possible, I guess!

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

I think it’s important to really think about what feminism means to you and what about your business is feminist. Is it just your product or service, or how it’s also made? Is it your brand’s mission statement? Does your business acknowledge all of these things? Since I started this business, I’ve learned a lot more about feminism that I wish I had known then, and I’m evolving my brand as time goes on because of this.

I think having a thick skin can be beneficial if you would really like to join a debate, or fight to have your voice heard while running a feminist business. Anti-feminists can believe all the anti-feminist memes they have created as they want; I know that feminists are some of the most compassionate and caring human beings on this planet. Fully embracing my identity as one has made me a better person.

I admire activists who are out there shutting down the ignorance and not letting the pushback get them down, because it’s tough. But in the end, any harassment (online or offline) is just proof that misogyny is still alive and well and that feminism is thusly needed.

Only Child Apparel donates a portion of every sale to a local rape crisis centre. What inspired you to do this?

I felt that if I want to call my brand ‘feminist’ it needs to be more than just feminist slogans. I need to consider my role in feminism as a business person. Donating to WAVAW was the most obvious choice for me. They are the organization that gave me my empowered awakening nearly four years ago. WAVAW staff were among the first to buy shirts from me when I started making them. They brought an amazing network of women into my life, and I don’t know what I would do without them. The world is a better place for having an organization like them offering their services and supporting women. They are life changers. Donating to them is the least I could do. I’m not into running half-marathons, so I need to contribute a different way.

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Body positivity and inclusivity seems to be a big part of Only Child Apparel’s design philosophy. Why is this important to your designs?

I wanted these shirts to embrace intersectional feminism’s message of embracing everyone; not just through t-shirt slogans, but by how my brand presents itself and involves people from the movement. I could be doing better with the inclusive sizing with the shirts: this is a work in progress.

Intersectional feminism is tackling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, fat oppression and ableism (to name a few). If I only use models who would be considered ‘traditional’ (tall and skinny), how can I really say I care about representation when I won’t do it myself?

Intersectional feminism is tackling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, fat oppression and ableism (to name a few). If I only use models who would be considered ‘traditional’ (tall and skinny), how can I really say I care about representation when I won’t do it myself? I want models of different genders, races, and body types to appear in my work because these people exist and are beautiful too. 

I will mention that I know that I am white and blonde, and so I am included in the narrow type of woman that is often represented [in fashion]. I do model for my shirts a lot. I feel comfortable putting my face all over my brand, and I am obviously the most readily-available to appear in photos for my work. However, we have already seen women that look like me many times before. Representation is so important because our society is so quick to dismiss that other types of people exist. 

There are a lot of brands jumping on the female empowerment bandwagon. I see lots of fun shirts on trendy consumer sites where they still have size 0 models. There’s nothing radical about [these advertisements] and it’s clearly just to capitalize on what’s popular at this very moment.

Anything else you would like Closet Feminist readers to know about Only Child Apparel?

My photos are taken by Jackie Dives of http://jackiedivesphoto.com, who is so talented, so accommodating and so disarming. She did a series of photos on menstruation that were featured in Vice!

Want more of Only Child Apparel? Check out their social media and Etsy shop here:

Instagram: @onlychildapparel

Facebook: http://www.fb.com/onlychildapparel

Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/OnlyChildApparel

All photos used with permission from Only Child Apparel.

I Wore Feminist T-shirts 7 Days In A Row…And Everything Was Fine

This is what a feminist looks like–literally.

This past summer I decided to try a little wardrobe challenge: wear a feminist t-shirt every day for seven days in a row.

A photo posted by Emily Yakashiro (@ekyakashiro) on

Luckily, I happen to actually own seven feminist shirts (yay no repeats!). My biggest worry about this challenge was wearing these outfits to work–wearing a band tshirt to the office felt like one thing, but wearing my political and philosophical beliefs on my sleeve 9-5 seemed like an entirely different affair.

There was some strategy for this–I was careful to wear my more wild shirts for the weekends, like the VDAY tank I wore on the first day of the challenge (see first picture above).

A photo posted by Emily Yakashiro (@ekyakashiro) on

I had actually been planning to do this challenge for a while, but was waiting for a stretch of warm, sunny weather–it would have to happen during the summer. My rationale here was I wanted people to actually see my shirts. If I had done the challenge during colder months, I would probably cover up the shirts with sweaters and cardigans in effort to stay warm, which rather defeats the purpose. Plus, practically speaking, its wayyyyy easier to take outfit pics when its not freezing outside.

A photo posted by Emily Yakashiro (@ekyakashiro) on

I admit, I was a little nervous about how people would react in my day-to-day life. I’m happy to report though that absolutely nothing bad happened at all. Nobody even questioned me (“soooo feminism, eh?”).  I get tired of answering the “why feminism?” question, so largely, I just don’t do that anymore–I leave that up to my allies. Wearing the shirts was a quick, easy way to signal (as if its not already obvious) ‘hey I’m a feminist’.

A photo posted by Emily Yakashiro (@ekyakashiro) on

I’m assuming that no one talked to me about my shirts for a few reasons:

  1. I’m always dressed up. Wearing a colourful outfit and fun tshirt that happens to be relevant to feminism really doesn’t change my general wardrobe aesthetic
  2. They couldn’t be bothered–in talking to me, it’s obvious I’m a feminist–what difference does it make if I have a shirt on that declares it? It’s like wearing a religious jewellery, like a cross necklace. It indicates part of your identity, but most people aren’t going to bother to ask you about it.
  3. The privileges I enjoy (visibly mixed race, thin, cisgendered, etc) tend to effectively guard against any particularly invasive questions with regards to my wardrobe

 

A photo posted by Emily Yakashiro (@ekyakashiro) on

Since all was fine, I’m thinking I will do it again this summer (different outfits, naturally). If I’m being honest, I only actually enjoy wearing a few of these shirts–the others are uncomfortable, don’t fit right, etc–specific notes below.

A photo posted by Emily Yakashiro (@ekyakashiro) on

 

  1. I Love <3 My Vagina tank – got this at an actual Vagina Monologues performance years ago, so I can’t offer any current purchase details. I looove this tank top, fits so nicely. Wear it often as a pajama top.
  2. Women In History tshirt – I love this tshirt! I especially love how diverse it is, and where else would you see these women being honoured in such a fashion? You can buy it here, but they only ship within the US (boooo!)–I was only able to get mine via my girl ST who lives in the states right now. I will say though–it fits really long and covers my butt which is kinda annoying
  3. …And I’m Not Sorry tank- this one was made for me by my sister-in-law! I love it, and wear it often on the weekends (the super-thin straps make it a little unprofesh for work and necessitates layering). It’s about taking up space and not being sorry of course.
  4. Women Belong In the House…of Commons! tshirt – I’ve had this one for years, and while I think the graphic is clever/awesome, I hate the fit–its that thick, ribbed cotton tshirt material that bags easily after too many washes.
  5. feminism tshirt – While I love the simplicity of the statement, this shirt also fits poorly–too small, so its rather uncomfortable. Also, it says ‘humanism’ on the back which I didn’t picture because I don’t like that aspect of the tshirt–I’m a feminist, and don’t identify with humanism.
  6. Feminism tshirt – This one is so comfy, plus I really like it because it is made by Only Child Apparel, which is a local, Vancouver-based line!!! Also, this was probably my favourite outfit of the week.
  7. got consent? tank – This one, like shirt #4 is that unfortunate fabric. Also, it has shrunk over the years so it doesn’t fit well–neckline is too high for my taste, and its short on my torso. I got this while I was at UBC while I was working for the campus sexual assault support centre, but it looks like they are no longer for purchase.

BONUS: Looking for other awesome places to find feminist tshirts? Check out the list I have going here.

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