Toyo Miyatake Picture Analysis

1755 words - 7 pages

During World War II, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans in the western United States were forced into internment camps because the government felt as though the Japanese were dangerous if they were not relocated. These camps were usually in poor condition and in deserted areas of the nation. The Japanese were forced to make the best of their situation and thus the adults farmed the land and tried to maximize leisure while children attempted to enjoy childhood. The picture of the internee majorettes, taken by internee and photographer Toyo Miyatake, shows sixteen girls standing on bleachers while posing in front of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range and desolate Manzanar background. Their faces show mixed expressions of happiness, sadness and indifference, and their attire is elegant and American in style. With the image of these smiling girls in front of the desolate background, Miyatake captures an optimistic mood in times of despair. Though this photograph is a representation of the Manzanar internment camp and, as with most representations, leaves much unsaid, the majorette outfits and smiling faces give a great deal of insight on the cooperative attitudes of Japanese Americans and their youth's desire to be Americanized in this time.
The smiling faces of the posing girls relay a sense of acceptance of their given situation, and their ability to find happiness in the bleakest of circumstances. The camp life was awful, but many Japanese, though frustrated and depressed, went along with what the government asked of them. Their conforming behavior was a result of the catch 22(a situation in which they were damned if they did and damned if they didn't) they were in. Because Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, if Japanese resisted relocation, they most likely would not have succeeded in living a peaceful life among the Americans who hated them, and if they went along with the internment then they were like prisoners, and Americans would still hate them. They had no other choice than to follow United States government orders. As shown in the picture, the camps were built in arid climates on dry soil with little signs of life. When sent to the camps, the Japanese were able to farm the land and grow food successfully (History and Memory). Internees were able to make camp life more enjoyable through their willingness to adapt to their surroundings through activities such as farming and, in the case of the picture, becoming a part of a group and holding performances. Japanese internees made the most of their imprisonment, despite the dismal environment they were forced into, but not all of their work was voluntary. Japanese men were forced to work on the camp and many were asked to help the guards keep order behind closed doors, since many items were forbidden- such as cameras. They were supposed to keep their eyes on the look out for suspicious activities and were supposed to report disallowed items.
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