Reverend Yamazaki Was Beaten in Camp Jerome
Genre: Oil on canvas
- Aull, Felice
- Date of entry: May-24-2003
- Last revised: May-17-2007
A man wearing a dark suit and shirt with clerical collar, his head bowed, knees buckling, his forehead and cheek dripping blood, is being held from behind by a young man whose arms reach under the cleric's shoulders to restrain him. To the left of these two men, and moving into the center of the picture with his lifted outstretched leg, a third man, his sleeves rolled up to reveal his muscular arms, punches and kicks the cleric. All three have Asiatic features.
In the background is a drab gray wooden building that says "Mess" while in the foreground a small wooden stake carries a sign saying "Block." The cleric's hat and glasses have tumbled to the ground next to his feet, and a book that appears to be a bible also lies there. The ground, like the Mess Hall, is drab and colorless; the sky is a bleak darkish brown.
Japanese American artist, Henry Sugimoto, depicted life in the internment camps into which he and his entire family (including wife and child) and many other Americans of Japanese descent were forced, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. This scene takes place among the inmates of Camp Jericho in Arkansas, where the Sugimotos were incarcerated. But why are these two young men attacking a minister?
From the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles we learn that the Reverend was suspected of collaborating with the U.S. government against his own people because he acted as a translator of government documents. The atmosphere in the camps was highly charged after the U.S. government in 1943 required all camp inmates to register and to declare their non-allegiance to Japan. Since many families had relatives in Japan as well as cultural ties, they felt torn. In addition, the U.S. tried to recruit the men into military service, even though they were not allowed to become naturalized U.S. citizens at this time (see also Send Off Husband at Jerome Camp in this database).
This painting, then, reminds us that unjust treatment and restrictive living conditions can create suspicion and violence among people who desperately need each other and who need a sense of community. Not only were the physical conditions dehumanizing and lives disrupted--often permanently--but in addition, political and social "othering" caused great suffering.
Sugimoto never stopped thinking about his camp experiences. After he was released from the interment camp in 1945, he reviewed some of his paintings and added to them or repainted them on larger canvases. In the center foreground of this painting he added the poem that the Reverend had composed in response to being beaten.
See also the Online Archive of California Database (http://findaid.oac.cdlib.org/) where a fascinating and informative exhibit on Henry Sugimoto and his work has been made available by the Japanese American National Museum. The museum archive (http://findaid.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf258001r8) provides biographical material and background information for many of Sugimoto's paintings, sometimes quoting from his personal papers, and from "redress" testimony that he gave in 1981 when the U.S. government revisited the shameful internment episode.