New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 8 March 7 to 13, 2012

An American Internment
Ruth Morgan and Community Works
If They Came for Me Today
R.Wayne Parsons
Diane Fukami by Ruth Morgan . Source:
Ruth Morgan, "Diane Fukami"

If one picture is worth a thousand words, what are thirteen pictures and several thousand words worth? In this case quite a lot, as the pictures and words comprise the exhibition If they came for me today …Japanese American Internment Project at the Interchurch Center. The story of this bleak page of American history is well known. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the removal of 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans to internment camps in isolated areas of Western states, where they remained for the duration of the war. Most of these people were American citizens. No attempt was made to determine if any of these people were security risks to American society; the mere fact that they were of Japanese origin was considered sufficient cause to transport them to concentration camps.

The exhibition consists of black and white portrait photos by Ruth Morgan of fourteen Japanese Americans who were imprisoned. The cloth panels on which the photos are printed also contain short essays about each person, narrating their experiences during and since the war and their feelings today. Surprisingly, there is not a lot of bitterness on display, though these citizens do recognize the injustice that was perpetrated on them personally and on the Japanese American community generally. The stories presented here show a good deal of resilience and optimism, as well as willingness to make the best of a bad situation. One humorous example was when Morgan Yamanaka was released in 1945 and given a mere $25 and a train ticket to anywhere after more than three years of incarceration. Yamanaka and his brother decided “to charge the government as much as we can” on the ticket and took off from Northern California to New York City.

Ginger Matsuyama Masuoka by Ruth Morgan. Source:
Ruth Morgan, "Ginger Matsuyama Masuoka"

This show is a product of Community Works, a national organization active in New York and elsewhere that involves pre-college students in arts projects such as this as well as performing arts and other projects. One problem with the exhibition is that little is said about Community Works and its programs. We should know more.

This show does not aspire to be only photography exhibition. Rather, it is an exhibition using photos and text to document this episode in our history. Its value lies in heightening our awareness of this injustice and giving it a human face. Official acknowledgment of the error of the government’s actions came 46 years later when President Reagan in 1988 signed the Civil Liberties Act, which included a government apology and a redress payment of $20,000 to each former inmate alive at that time.

But it would be a mistake to look at this exhibition as merely pointing backwards to something that happened 70 years ago. One need not pay much attention to the news media to realize that the same prejudices that led to concentration camps then are evident in our society today in such forms as hostile attitudes toward Muslims and immigrant workers (mainly Hispanic). One need only think of the harsh immigration laws passed last year in Alabama and Arizona, the recent scandal about the anti-Muslim film shown in the NYC police department, and the contretemps over the location of a Muslim cultural center a few blocks from the World Trade Center site. If these events don’t confirm the necessity for constant vigilance it’s hard to say what would

Ruth Morgan and Community Works
If They Came for Me Today

The Interchurch Center
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Tuesday, February 7 to
Thursday, March 15, 2012
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