"Mine Okubo was one of over one hundred thousand people of Japanese descent--nearly two-thirds of whom were American citizens--who were forced into 'protective custody' shortly after Pearl Harbor. Citizen 13660, Okubo's graphic memoir of life in relocation centers in California and Utah, illuminates this experience with poignant illustrations and witty, candid text. Now available with a new introduction by Christine Hong and in a wide-format artist edition, this graphic novel can reach a new generation of readers and scholars. '[Mine Okubo] took her months of life in the concentration camp and made it the material for this amusing, heart-breaking book. The moral is never expressed, but the wry pictures and the scanty words make the reader laugh--and if he is an American too--blush.' 'A remarkably objective and vivid and even humorous account. In dramatic and detailed drawings and brief text, she documents the whole episode. all that she saw, objectively, yet with a warmth of understanding'"--New York times book review"--
When Japan hits Pearl Harbor in 1941, USA realizes that the war will not just go away and something need to be done. One of the actions is to move all Japanese residing in specific parts of USA to evacuation camps. And if this could have been accepted as a normal reaction after an invasion, the definition of Japanese changes the perception. Before WWII, Japanese born in Japan that had made their lives in USA could not be naturalized. But their children, born in USA and in a lot of cases never seen Japan had been American citizens by birth with all the obligations and rights coming from that. Until the day the evacuations are ordered. All people from Japanese ancestry (regardless of their nationality) are ordered to either move away from the pre-designated zones or to evacuate to camps.
Mine Okubo is a second generation Japanese, an American citizen by birth and the beginning of the war, she is in Europe. This is where her story begins -- with her getting back to USA where all should be better; where she can feel safe. Until she needs to leave her home and evacuate - only because of her race. During the years she spends in the camps (first in California, then in Utah), she is drawing pictures of the camp life. And this is what is the base of this book. It is not a comic book but it is not a narrative autobiography either. The best description is probably an autobiography in drawings with captions.
Without the pictures, the book feels unfinished and too spar; without the words, a lot of the pictures make no sense (especially when the association with the word camp is Auschwitz). Together, they make the message clear -- despite the fact that there is no cruelty and it sounds like the camp officials were doing all they could to make life bearable and easy, a camp is not home. And people did not choose to move there.
There is a lot of humor in the book; a lot of understanding of why it happened the way it happened, a lot of almost trivial explanations. It makes the whole situation surreal - people are treated badly and still they don't really blame anyone too much.
I'll admit that I was in my late 20s when I heard about these camps at all. They were not in my textbooks or in the books I had read about WWII. But they were important - despite all the differences, despite the fact that at the end anyone could almost leave when they wanted to (the author stayed longer than she was forced to), they were camps created for the people from a race - regardless of their nationality. And Okubo's book catches the life in the camps marvelously. She comes up as a whiny young woman occasionally, especially at times like that. But at the same time, she had grown up to a different standard and in a country where the rights are protected.
The format of the book does not allow for any analysis. But none is needed. And this is a story that should be remembered and repeated - because it was part of teh war; even if almost noone died.
By Mine Okubo
Reprinted 1945/ 2018
University of Washington Press
February 19, the day the Executive Order 9066, issued by FDR, has been named Remembrance Day by the Japanese Americans, to honor the memory of relatives interned to camps. Executive Order 9066 ordered the mass evacuation from the West Coast and internment of all people of Japanese descent.
"In the history of the United States this was the first mass evacuation of its kind in which civilians were moved simply because of their race. "
110,000 Japanese were moved from their homes and sent to one if 10 camps, set up in make shift empty fair grounds, Coliseum and buildings. Tanforan and Topaz are the most known of the camps.
This is Okubos recording of what she saw, heard and experienced while evacuated to these camps. "To see what happens to people when reduced to one status and condition.", Okubo states. Cameras were not permitted, so she sketched, drew and painted what she saw. Every page has an illustration. Citizen 13660 is the story of her camp life.
Great book...Loved it!!