Immigrants encounter a series of challenges when settling in new territories because of their inability to respond promptly to the language barrier and other cultural differences that affect their quality of life in their immediate environment. In many instances, individuals familiarize themselves with the way of life adopted by the dominant population group to understand their perspectives and fit in the community. However, social problems such as cultural and racial identity formation come into play during the interactions between minority population groups and their dominant counterparts. In the same vein, issues attributed to alienation and belonging compel individuals to focus on the unique abilities that can provide them with a competitive edge over other individuals in their immediate environment.
Hiromu Kira was a Japanese American photographer who rose through the ranks to become a successful artist. Despite being born in Hawai’i, Kira was exposed to the Japanese education system and cultural values imposed on him during childhood and early adult life. However, he returned to the U.S. in 1916 when he was 18 and settled in Seattle, where he started developing his passion for photography. Seven years later, after returning to the U.S., two of his photography works were accepted by the Seattle Photography Salon (Muller 826). Later in the same year, his works made their way to different avenues, which played a critical role in elevating his success as a photographer. His broad perspective towards life influenced his consistent growth as a photographer. From this realization, many people recognized his contribution towards solving different issues affecting minority population groups in the U.S. and the best approaches that could be used to overcome the social problems.
Cultural and Racial Identity
Race is a social construct that classifies individuals based on their skin color and other physical attributes, which differentiate them from others in their surroundings. In this regard, the secluded individuals in the community are exposed to a challenging environment that interferes with their thought process and ability to accomplish various goals. Even though race has no scientific background, many people view the social construct as a critical element of existence that influences their thought process towards life. In the U.S. and beyond, race is widely used to justify various actions that shape people’s attitudes towards aspects of life and society. Likewise, the American system is largely embedded in racial justifications that range from how power is used to influence outcomes to the different approaches people from a specific community can exploit their privileges to accomplish their desired goals.
Before the Second World War, President Franklin Roosevelt approved the internment camps to accommodate Japanese citizens from individuals on the West Coast and across the country. Even though many Japanese citizens in the U.S. were focused on pursuing the American Dream, the Roosevelt administration was afraid of the nature of connections the Japanese Americans had with their people in Japan (Nagata, Jacqueline, and Kaidi 36). In this case, the stringent and inhumane measures taken against the minority population group was fuelled by the need to impose a certain level of control that would limit the Japanese American from gaining any economic and social value, which could threaten America’s control in the geopolitical context. Hiromu Kira was one of the victims affected by the Japanese American Internment, which was a forced relocation that interfered with his photographic career. The U.S. government’s action is believed to be one of the country’s worst cases of racist and discriminatory treatment towards Japanese Americans and other individuals of Asian descent.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. felt the need to impose proactive measures that would enable the country to discover its potential and ability to protect the wellbeing of its people. One of the widely endorsed retaliatory tactics was to seclude all Japanese Americans from civilization because of their role in facilitating the deadly attack as espionage agents. Hiromu Kira’s family served with him at the Santa Anita Assembly Center where his photographic career slumped due to the government’s efforts to cut the ties between the Japanese Americans in the U.S. and their counterparts in Japan. In a discriminatory move, Kira was compelled to deposit his camera and photographic catalog at the Little Tokyo temple to prevent any interference that would have cost him his fortune. However, the harsh treatment from the government exposed Kira to a moment of retrospect where he experienced discriminatory practices, which undermined his focus in the business environment.
Alienation and Belonging
The detention experience had a significant impact on Kira’s career as a photographer because he decided against exhibiting his work after release from the detention facility. Given that his family was also exposed to the racially discriminatory practices executed by the U.S. government, Kira’s career as a phenomenal photographer took a sharp and swift turn to adjust to the changing environment (Lee 30). The intimidation tactics used in the internment camp harmed Kira’s perspectives as a photographer and discouraged him from exhibiting any creative work after Second World War. Given his childhood in Japan, where he learned various insights about his culture, Kira failed to expose his family to an enabling environment where he would teach them about Japan’s belief and value system. Instead, the heavy military presence and the harsh living conditions created a climate of fear that hindered Kira from engaging in his artistic profession that exposed the beauty and aesthetic nature of the U.S.
Fig 1.0 A graphical representation of Hiromu Kira’s The Thinker, which was published in 1930.
From the above work of art, it is evident that Kira’s unique photographic skills resonated with population groups from both Japan and the U.S. Many Americans are obsessed with architecture because of its role in exposing them closer to the realization of their American Dream. In the same vein, structures hold an intense meaning in Japan because of their ability to expose individuals to an enabling environment where they can reflect on their actions and develop feasible solutions that address the effects of their behavior. Connecting the two cultural groups was an important selling point adopted by Kira in capturing the U.S. and linking individuals to his strong Japanese roots (Fukumura 5). However, racial dynamics came in between Kira’s love for photography and protecting his family from the discriminatory practices adopted by the U.S. government to punish innocent individuals who could have been vindicated because of their lack of involvement.
After the evacuations, many Japanese Americans have indicated their inability to forget the strong stench of manure from horses in some temporary internment centers such as the Santa Anita Assembly Center. Given that Japanese children and women were exposed to these harsh conditions, it is possible to identify some of the factors that discouraged Kira from engaging in photography after his release from the internment center. The Japanese Americans were separated from the rest of the world by a barbed wire as captured in many historical accounts that explore the challenges of growing up as an Asian in the U.S. during the age of the internment facilities (Schrader). The impact of alienation from the real world and their cultural belief system had far-reaching effects on Kira’s perspectives and that of other Japanese Americans. In the detention center, they were prohibited from owning or accessing Japanese literature, a move that deprived them of their cultural heritage, which is essential in maintaining continuity across subsequent generations.
Many people recognized Kira’s contribution towards solving different issues affecting minority population groups in the U.S. and the best approaches that could be used to overcome the social problems. His Japanese and American identity equipped him with a unique edge over other photographers because of his diverse views on life and other aspects of society. However, the discriminatory practices adopted by the U.S. government after the Pearl Habor attack exposed him to a shift in mindset that hindered individuals from experiencing various aspects, which influenced his interests in photography. His decision against exhibiting his work was largely influenced by the experience at the detention center and the inability to expose his children and family to an enabling environment where they could connect with their Japanese heritage for two years.
Fukumura, Koji F. “When Our Legal System Failed: The Japanese Internment Camps of the 1940s.” Litigation 44.1 (2017): 4-7.
Lee, Shelley Sang-Hee. “Good American Subjects Done through Japanese Eyes”: Race, Nationality, and the Seattle Camera Club, 1924-1929.” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 96.1 (2004): 24-34.
Muller, Eric L. “The War Relocation Authority and the Wounding of Japanese American Loyalty.” Social Research: An International Quarterly 86.3 (2019): 821-839.
Nagata, Donna K., Jacqueline HJ Kim, and Kaidi Wu. “The Japanese American wartime incarceration: Examining the scope of racial trauma.” American Psychologist 74.1 (2019): 36.
Schrader, Elise. “Japanese internment camps: how Hawaii was both accepting and unforgiving.” (2019).