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Bainbridge Island’s Japanese American community

18 April 2016 by Sam

picture of a girl behind rows of barbed wire

Depiction of a girl on the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial © Lee Karen Stow

As part of her ongoing research for the Poppies: Women and War project, photographer Lee Karen Stow has travelled to America. In her latest blog post from her travels, she tells of an encounter with a woman whose life was turned upside down as a result of the Second World War:

“Unexpectedly, whilst visiting Bainbridge Island in America’s Pacific North West, I met Kazuko ‘Kay’ Nakao. Now 97 years old, Kay was one of 227 Japanese-Americans forcibly removed by armed US Army soldiers from their homes on the island one morning in March 1942, to be interned in concentration camps in the harsh deserts of the country’s interior west.

Kay by an information panel with lots of photos

Kay pointing to a photo of herself being forced to leave the island to be interned © Lee Karen Stow

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 during the Second World War, America was gripped by fear, hysteria and paranoia. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the forcible internment of 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry. Bainbridge Island, a rural farming community, became the first place in America where the order was carried out.

Kay was 22 years old when she and her parents were given six days’ notice and forced to sell or store their possessions, and pack only what belongings they could wear or carry.

That year promised to be a good year for their strawberry crop. But they had to leave their farm behind to spend three and a half years in the camps,before returning to begin lives and livelihoods all over again. It wasn’t until 1988 that her family received an official letter of apology from the US Government and a cheque for $20,000.

smiling women

Lee Karen Stow and Kay beneath a cherry blossom tree.

“I was not bitter, or angry. I was sad”, Kay remembered when I met her at the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial which bears the inscription ‘Nidoto Nai Yoni’, (Let It Not Happen Again). “We are telling more and more people about what happened because it could happen again.”

Further reading about this remarkable memorial and first-hand accounts of those interned is available on the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC) website.”

The exhibition Poppies: Women and War is at the Museum of Liverpool until 5 June 2016.

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