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The Carletonian

“Colors of Confinement” premieres at Library

<ing the height of World War II, Masao “Frank” Shigemura and ten others of Japanese ancestry were permitted through the Student Relocation Center to attend Carleton. This was not only a choice to attend college, but a rare opportunity for young Japanese-Americans to leave the internment camps and study alongside fellow Americans. Despite the hostile political times, Shigemura found “fair treatment and kindness” at Carleton as described by a letter he wrote to his parents. His experience was better than most.

The “Colors of Confinement” Gould Library exhibit and its supplemental displays feature Shigemura’s story and many others. On display are memoirs, letters, artist books, photographs and more. The main exhibit on the outside walls of the Rookery features photographs taken by Takao “Bill” Manbo of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center—one of the nation’s ten internment camps—where he and his family lived from 1942-45. Cameras were classified as a weapon of war at nearly all of the camps; the photographs Manbo was able to take exist as artifacts of an era in which flagrant violation of Japanese-American citizens’ civil rights was commonplace and accepted.

During World War II, about 120,000 Japanese-Americans were relocated to internment camps all over the nation. The 10,000 or so that were forcibly moved to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming experienced a similar climate to that of Minnesota. Many were torn from the warmer West Coast, forced to leave behind friends, family and economic opportunity. None had willingly chosen to leave.
Despite the poor, cold and unfamiliar conditions, Manbo’s photos are surprisingly lively. An op-ed in the New York Times described how “[Manbo] used his camera to draw his family together, to document some semblance of an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances and to create for his young son a visual legacy of a normal childhood.”

Manbo’s fight for normalcy is convincing – almost to a fault. For many of the photographs, only subtle visual clues suggest the prisoner of war status of the Japanese-Americans: guard towers, barbed wire fences and untraditional homes fade into the background. The captions under each photograph and additional books available at the exhibit provide further context for the Manbo family’s experience at the internment camp. Only longer scrutiny of the photographs, reading materials and general context of the internment camps can reveal the full weight of his photographs and the true consequences of internment.

“Colors of Confinement” will be on display in the Gould Library until April 13. On Jan. 31, Professor Eric L. Muller of the University of North Carolina will give a talk in the Library Athenaeum in conjunction with the exhibit, preceded by a talk by Professor Fred Hagstrom on Jan. 30.

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