The following is a guest post by Karen “Kara” Chittenden, Senior Cataloging Specialist, Prints and Photographs Division.
On April 25, 1942, a U.S. War Relocation Authority photographer documented a young Japanese American woman who was waiting in line for an appointment to receive a family registration number before being removed to the Tanforan Assembly Center five days later. The image shows the young woman looking into the distance with a worried expression on her face. That photographic print became part of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, which was transferred to the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division in 1944 with this description: “San Francisco, Calif., Apr. 1942 – residents of Japanese ancestry registering for evacuation and housing, later, in War Relocation Authority centers for duration of the war.”
The photographer, Dorothea Lange, gained recognition and fame for her wartime work. But, for almost 80 years, the woman depicted in the photograph remained anonymous. Through a series of lucky events, I was able to connect with the woman’s daughter and grandson earlier this year and learned her name: Shizuko Ina. It all started with a gicleé print created by Shizuko’s grandson, artist Adrian Tomine, based on the photograph. Tomine called the print “San Francisco, 1942” and produced a limited edition to raise money for Tsuru for Solidarity, a social justice organization co-organized by Satsuki Ina, who is Shizuko’s daughter and Tomine’s mother.
The Library knew right away that the print should be added to its collections. When we reached out to acquire a copy, we were rewarded with information about Shizuko’s identity. I received permission from the family to add her name to the catalog record for the photograph. Then Satsuki worked with me to add information about the Ina family’s wartime experience. I asked Satsuki if she would share more of her family’s story and what it was like for her that her mother is finally identified in the photograph. She kindly agreed, and excerpts from our interview follow.
Dr. Satsuki Ina is a psychotherapist, professor emeritus, documentary filmmaker, and activist based in Oakland, California. Her parents were American citizens of Japanese descent who, during World War II, were incarcerated in a horse stall at Tanforan Assembly Center, a converted racetrack in San Bruno, California; and in hastily-built barracks at Topaz War Relocation Center in Millard County, Utah, and Tule Lake Segregation Center in Newell, California, where Satsuki was born. She, her older brother, Kiyoshi, and her mother were separated from her father when he was transferred to Fort Lincoln, a Department of Justice camp for “enemy aliens” in Bismarck, North Dakota. In 1946, they were reunited at the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas.
Kara: Please tell us about yourself and how your family’s experience with mass incarceration during World War II influenced your life and work.
Satsuki: My parents lost hope in America. They felt very diminished by their experience, humiliated. It was an indefinite detention, and they had no idea how long they were going to be held. They lost everything that they had and did not feel that there was any promise for their kids. So I think that is the heart of what has influenced me in my own life. My parents never talked about their experience. I had no idea. There’s this kind of quest to fill an empty space of knowing that drove me. Since that time the issue of injustice was in my awareness. I was driven to understand the nature of human beings, the oppressed and oppressor, abuse within families. It led me to become a psychotherapist specializing in community trauma and helping Japanese Americans heal from their family incarceration experiences.
Most of my studies have been to understand what happened in the Japanese American community, what happened in the prison camps, and we are once again a targeted community. I have much identification with the children who are being incarcerated now, separated from their families, because my father was taken from us and put in a separate prison camp. Families were broken apart. Now I’ve assumed, as an elder, more of a leadership role, educating people, and organizing my community to speak out about how those injustices are being repeated again.
Kara: When did you first learn of the photo of your mother, Shizuko Ina, waiting to be assigned a family number before being incarcerated at Tanforan? What did your mother tell you about the photograph?
Satsuki: The National Japanese American Historical Society put together a calendar in the late 1980s. My mother and I were talking, and she said, “Oh, some people have been calling me, telling me that my picture is in the calendar.” When I came down to visit her I saw this stunning photo, and clearly it was her. I said, “What were you doing there?” And she said, “This is me when I was at Kinmon Hall with watchmaker Oji-san,” who was the surrogate father to my father. “I didn’t know that anybody took a picture of me.”
The expression on her face is what stayed with me. I don’t think I knew who Dorothea Lange was at the time, it was just someone who had taken a photo of my Mom. I did some research, discovered who Dorothea Lange was, and several years later the Japanese Community Center had an exhibit of different photos by Lange and the incarceration, and my mother’s photo was going to be in that collection. Slowly, I was getting who Lange was, I saw her photos of other events she photographed and felt admiration for her. I took my Mom to that exhibit. She didn’t say how she felt at the moment when she was standing in line. They just didn’t talk about that, they didn’t get too close to the heart, and so when I look at that photo I see more. At the exhibit, she was very quiet and walked around looking at other photos by Lange. My Mom survived that whole incarceration experience. She wasn’t happy that it was a beautiful photo of herself.
Kara: Documentary photographs often leave people unidentified to protect their privacy. Do you think your mother would have wanted to be identified at the time that the photo was taken?
Satsuki: I think she would have preferred not to have been photographed. It was a traumatic moment. It was a very disturbing moment. If Lange had come up to her and said, “Do you mind if I take a photo?,” she probably would have said no. I tried to imagine Lange coming up to her afterwards and saying, “I’m recording this for posterity, and I did take a photo of you, can I ask your name? Would you mind if I use this photo as part of the story?” I think she probably would not have wanted her name known then, just like being caught in a humiliating moment, a moment of being degraded, of being depersonalized.
Now it’s a historical artifact. I think it’s so important to go back, to look at it, learn from it, and humanize the people who suffered by giving them their names. I think that would be such a gift to the families. The photos are being used all of the time without the viewers knowing that it was their uncle or their grandfather. I was at a Seattle event, and there was literally a life-size re-creation of that photo as a welcome to the exhibit, and I wanted to stand around there and say, “Her name is Shizuko, her name is Shizuko, her name is Shizuko!”
Kara: Almost 80 years after the photograph was taken, what is it like for you to have your mother now identified in it for the public record?
Satsuki: It’s emotional for me. I feel this closure, like she’s not an anonymous victim of this horrific constitutional crime. It’s an acknowledgement. It’s important. This human being named Shizuko Ina went through a life-changing event that has been so traumatic for her and passed it on to me in ways that have been invisible. The model minority myth has been superimposed on us, and it minimized the damage that the loss of time and loss of dignity caused. Looking back to what she experienced, knowing her name personalizes the story. Mass incarceration and racism is very dehumanizing and when you give a person a name, like “say their name,” it lets people know that this was a real person, this really happened. It makes me want to share what she went through.
Kara: How does it make you feel to know that your son’s beautiful graphic print will be in the Library of Congress’ collection along with the photograph that it’s based upon?
Satsuki: I love it. From a very personal point of view, it’s like the three generations are together, connected through this whole story. Adrian breathed life back into Shizuko’s story by bringing it into a contemporary medium, and it was printed on February 19, 2021, the Day of Remembrance for when the executive order was signed.
Kara: Adrian, what inspired you to make the print?
Adrian: The Lange photo has been a presence in my family since my childhood, so it’s an image that’s very much burned into my memory. Of course, I have a special connection to it because I recognize the central figure as my grandmother, and I see hints of my own children in her face and her posture. Aside from that, I think the photo achieves a level of artistry in the way that it speaks to the moment in history and the range of emotions it captures so subtly. When I was working on the illustration, I had the feeling that my grandmother was not only looking ahead to her future, but also to the future of our country.
Kara: Thank you, Satsuki and Adrian, for sharing your family’s experience during World War II. We are thrilled to be able to identify Shizuko in her photograph and hope that others will recognize family members in unidentified pictures and share their stories, too.
- See a description of the group of photographs Dorothea Lange and Clem Albers took for the War Relocation Authority, including the one of Shizuko Ina discussed in this blog post. You can view the portion that has been digitized from the group.
- Read another Picture This blog post, written by Kara to honor the Day of Remembrance, which recognizes the effects of Executive Order 9066 authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt to incarcerate Americans of Japanese descent and Japanese nationals living in the United States in camps during World War II.
- Explore this collection of newspapers created by Japanese Americans incarcerated at temporary and longer-term camps during WWII. That collection has related articles and essays that may be of interest.
- If you recognize family members or others not identified in pictures, please feel free to contact us through our Ask a Librarian service so that we can update our descriptions.