Miné Okubo + Utah Internment Camps

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

It's interesting the little bits of history you can find in little towns in Utah. 

My grandfather loves going on road-trips around here, he's always finding fun little things to see. One of his favorite places to visit (and take people) is Delta, Utah. It's a tiny little town about an 1.5 hours south of Provo. Have you ever been? (Tell me if you have!) I mentioned to him that I had been to LA to source fabric, so he took me to this fabric store there that he had been years ago (which is amazing if you love quilting and want to see some neat old sewing machines!) and they had a couple museums nearby too. One of them, which caught me by surprise, was the Topaz Japanese American Internment Camp Museum. 

In 1942, the government collected Japanese from across the USA (mostly in the West Coast) and put them in camps, to monitor them (which seriously makes my mind explode) There was a great deal of racism against the Japanese during the war, and Roosevelt wanted to make sure that the USA wasn't housing any spies. Over 127,000 people were put into these camps, and held for about 3 years.

First of all. How dare we. Many of these people were educated, born in the USA, and were working, functional members of society. They were doctors, nurses, teachers, industry workers. They contributed to society, and then all of a sudden, they were herded together and sent to camps in the middle of the desert to be watched. 

I'd known about these camps for a while now, but seeing this museum today really made it personal. I think a lot about refugees, and about Muslims in our own country who are being discriminated against because of ignorance and some of our current presidential candidates ( like monitoring Muslims? Seriously?) --- it's like we're going back in time. 

This museum had an incredible exhibit (which I encourage all of you Utahn's and non-Utahns to go to if you have a free day). It was absolutely worth it. 

The camps weren't like concentration camps in the way they were treated, but they were made up of very basic barracks, which could house up to 12 bunks to a room. There was a rec room, and they could do a lot of gardening, hold classes, and some, after a few months (when they realized they weren't actually spies), could go around town and work (thankfully!). 

A lot of them began having art classes, which is what the main exhibit at the museum was all about today. It was incredible how good some of these artists were. European-trained, many very, very prolific artists were detained here. One of my absolute favorites of the day was Japanese illustrator and artist Miné Okubo. Oh my goodness, her work was incredible. She had many different styles (which I relate to 100%) from illustrative, to painting, to block prints, to picasso-esque chalk drawings. 

Miné studied in Europe, and lived there for a while, until the war began making it too dangerous for her to stay. She went back to California to live, and then, as fate would have it, was sent to Topaz Internment Camp, in Delta, Utah. 

Ironic isn't it. 

Her work was so beautiful. My favorite were her simple ink brush work, she just captured the subjects so simply. 

She has a compilation of her drawings from the time in the camp called Citizen 13660.
 (You can get it here if you are interested).

She is my new hero and inspiration. 

The exhibit is up till September, but visit soon if you can!



  1. Thank you so much for this post. It hits close to home for me, too. I'm an asian living in Utah! I'd love to go out to Delta to see the exhibit. Her ink drawings are similar to your style, I love it.

  2. Finding this place was the best thing that happened to us after the owner of our previously booked venue refused to answer any of our calls or emails after giving us completely stupid excuses. The coordinator at New York wedding venues did a wonderful job.



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