YONSEI: The Legacy of Japanese-American Incarceration will be an all-ages full-color book–an illustrated history that catalogues the evolution of Japanese-American (JA) identity since World War II-era internment.

While it is on one level a microcosm–a history of five generations of our Nakamura family amid the tight-knit JA community in Chicago–it more broadly depicts both the complicated relationship between Japanese-Americans as a people and America as a country.

Through a multi-generational lens, our book looks at the lasting effects of racism and government-sanctioned trauma, and how the incarceration has shaped JA feelings towards activism and politics today. One generation’s views towards Japanese-Americans is the next’s views towards Muslims or Latinx; in this way history is cyclical. We believe one  way to break such cycles of fear, xenophobia, and racism is to illuminate the past. We want to show our family’s cycle as a way to make the past personal.

Additionally, YONSEI aims to illustrate other aspects of JA identity and life, including faith, food, and family. We’ve already spent months interviewing various family members from our 91-year-old grandfather, who at 14 was incarcerated with his entire family in the Amache incarceration camp, to our 10-year-old cousin who had never heard of internment before.

The book will include profiles and quotes from family members, framed by a larger narrative that brings the themes– identity, alienation, assimilation, resistance–together.

When we are finished we will need grant and organizational partners to bring this project to life, so let us know if you’re interested!

In 2018, Cori was awarded an artist’s residency from the Jerome Foundation. During her week in the woods, she painted all the family portraits and hand-bound an artist’s book version of our project.

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