On February 19, 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in the name of national security. With a swipe of his pen, nearly 120,000 Japanese American lives were changed for generations to come. The order helped create military zones where people of Japanese ancestry — many of whom were American citizens — had their bank accounts frozen and were asked to leave their homes and businesses behind.
Given only a week to settle all their affairs (usually to avaricious business people looking to take advantage of their desperation), the Japanese in the United States were sent to relocation camps with just the belongings they could carry. This was a loss of monumental proportions in the face of hysteria and suspicion emanating from the rest of American society.
Living behind barbed wire fences without their possessions, the Japanese Americans still found a way to stay resilient, true grace under intense pressure. One of the ways they found release was through art, creating beauty in their harsh, deserted surroundings. “These are people who were immigrants. They got put in one-mile square area and they can’t get out,” said Delphine Hirasuna, author of “The Art of Gaman,” which beautifully illustrated the poignant work that came out of the camps. “Art became a way of release for them.”
The following photos are a glimpse of the dignity and strength of spirit that Japanese Americans demonstrated in those tumultuous times.
From the socially progressive prints of Sister Corita to the first major gay publication in the U.S., Los Angeles has a rich history of diverse visual expressions that are an intersection of graphic design and social activism.