“I’m really grateful that my grandmothers decided to talk to me about the incarceration. When I was first curious about it, I was writing an 8th grade history paper. Looking back, I know they didn’t give me a lot of emotional content but they still sat down and told me about how their lives were uprooted.” – Erin Shigaki
Erin Shigaki’s family had a house on King Street and 16th where they lived before World War II in the late 1930s. Her family belonged to the Japanese American Episcopal Church on the same block as the house, and her great grandfather helped build the Seattle Japanese Language School building down the street.
When the War broke out, Erin’s family was incarcerated like the other 125,000 Japanese American families living on the West Coast. They were looked upon by their neighbors with suspicion, stripped of their rights as American citizens, and uprooted from their homes and communities.
Unlike many Japanese American families, Erin grew up hearing stories about the incarceration from her grandmothers, and it would go on to influence her work as an artist. These stories inspired Erin’s work as an artist, exploring issues that communities of color face, and the similarities of what’s happened historically to what is happening now.
“The prejudice and fear of Asian Americans that was present during WWII is just rhyming so strongly with the stuff happening today with migrant detention and the increased xenophobia and hatefulness directed toward our community during the COVID crisis. It drives me to continue to tell our story and to keep putting my art out there.”
“I feel like the ‘forever foreigner’ sentiment just sticks with us. It hurts me so much to see this playing out right now in the global pandemic, where once again, when it’s not convenient for us to be American, we’re foreign, and seen as the cause of something terrible.
But I feel driven to shine a light on our story so that history stops repeating itself and to celebrate the resilience of our ancestors. To know that we have come through trauma and endured as immigrants. Despite poverty, redlining, and being rounded up en masse, we find joy, protect our culture, and persist. If we can talk about history and educate people through our work, that is invaluable. People learn in different ways, and art provides a visual window and a way in to these stories.”