projects > Silence (Tarpaper Totem)

My father, Mas Funo, identifies the American concentration camps as the single most defining event of his life.

He is four years old at the onset of the war with Japan, the FBI arrests my ojiichan and sends him to high-security camps. The rest of the family are forcibly removed to WRA camps. They reunify two years later at yet another camp in Crystal City, Texas. Ojiichan never talks about the abuses he suffers in the intervening years.

Silence is an overarching theme in the history of the incarceration: in many families, the Japanese language is shamed out of us so fast that in a single generation children can no longer communicate with their own parents; silence means compliance; silence means loyalty; and in the aftermath of the concentration camps, silence means survival at first, then suffocation.

Most significant, silence allows the American concentration camps to happen in the first place when the majority of Americans say nothing.