Return to Topaz
Ken Yoshioka reflects on a trip to Topaz, Utah in response to the Thacher Gallery exhibition Something from Nothing: Art and Handcrafted Objects from America’s Concentration Camps, August 21 – November 15, 2017.
In my parent’s house sat two wooden root stands that we used for potted plants. I had never given them much thought until I saw a wood stand carved from the trunk of a small tree in the exhibit Something from Nothing: Art and Handcrafted Objects from America’s Concentration Camps at the University of San Francisco Thacher Gallery. To see something so beautifully created out of ordinary tree parts reminded me of a time when I took my family on a national park road trip through Utah. When we were planning the trip back across Highway 50, my wife related that we would be passing through Delta, where the Topaz relocation camp was located. On an impulse, I decided we should go and see the site.
Driving out to what seemed to be nowhere and seeing the desolate landscape brought me to tears as I thought of the years spent in such a place by my mom’s family. I actually called my mom from Topaz and found out which block her family resided in during their time there. As I remember standing in the hot sun in the place my mom was incarcerated, I am reminded of the objects of beauty in the form of arts and crafts that were created, essentially, something from nothing. I had read that many took up a craft to deal with the “nothingness” of the camps. My parents never really talked about the camps and it was only after researching accounts of what life was like did I realize the enormity of those years. When I spoke to my mom from Topaz, she spoke of the difficulties but also about making the best of the situation. I actually interviewed my dad regarding his remembrances in the camp his family was incarcerated in Tule Lake. I related that the information would be invaluable for a paper I was writing but he was insistent that those interviews were to stay private. Two voices, one of resignation and one of bitterness, sadness and shame.
Now I look at those beautiful wood stands and I am reminded of the resilience of those who endured the camps, who endured with Gaman, meaning: “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.”