The art of endurance
I recently finished listening to an audiobook called Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, written by Andrea Warren. Norman Mineta was born and grew up in San Jose, California; in 1942 he was an 11-year-old Cub Scout when he and his family were sent to Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming. After the war his family were very fortunate to able to return to their home in San Jose — so many other Japanese-American internees lost their homes and belongings and were not welcome to return to their former neighborhoods. Norman served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army during the Korean War; In 1971 he was elected mayor of San Jose. Later in his career he served several terms as a state assemblyman and as Secretary of Commerce under Bill Clinton and Secretary of Transportation under George W. Bush.
As I was listening to the book, I suddenly remembered seeing the Chiura Obata exhibit when I visited the Crocker Art Museum in September 2018. Chiura Obata was born in Japan but immigrated to the U.S. in 1903. By 1942, he was already a successful artist and commercial designer, living with his wife and two children in Berkeley, California, until they were sent first to the Tanforan Detention Center and then to Topaz War Relocation Center in central Utah.
Since I came to the United States in 1903, I saw, faced, and heard many struggles among our Japanese Issei. The sudden burst of Pearl Harbor was as if the mother earth on which we stood was swept by the terrific force of a big wave of resentment of the American people. Our dignity and our hopes were crushed. In such times I heard the gentle but strong whisper of the Sequoia gigantean: ‘Hear me, you poor man. I’ve stood here more than three thousand and seven hundred years in rain, snow, storm, and even mountain fire still keeping my thankful attitude strongly with nature — do not cry, do not spend your time and energy worrying. You have children following. Keep up your unity; come with me.’ So in the past all such troubles moved like a cool fog. In deep respect I present my painting to our Nisei and the future generation — Chiura Obata, Interview, 1965