Emma Nishimura, interviewed by Heather Read and Kiyoye Marangos, 24 September 2015

Emma Nishimura, interviewed by Heather Read and Kiyoye Marangos, 24 September 2015

Abstract
Emma discusses her knowledge of her grandmother and grandfather’s experiences during the Second World War, and the gaps in family memory that surround their stories. Much of her Japanese Canadian family passed away before she was old enough to ask questions about their history; after finding some of her grandmother’s old sewing patterns in her mother’s house, she was inspired to begin researching their experiences in more detail. The research inspired 8 years worth of her fine art practice, which she also explains.
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Heather Read (HR)
So, this is September 24, 2015. This is Heather Read here with Emma Nishimura and Kiyoye Marangos is also here taking photographs. And we are here to discuss the Landscapes of Injustice Project. So Emma thank you very much for your time today.
Emma Nishimura (EN)
You're welcome.
HR
Can we start, as I mentioned before the tape got turned on, can we start with you telling me what you remember of your childhood?
EN
Absolutely. I was born in Toronto to a Japanese Canadian father and a Scottish Canadian mother. And, yea, my childhood was pretty great. Grew up in the Beaches in Toronto. Had a very supportive, close family. Good relationships with my grandparents on both sides. I think growing up as a kid, I didn't really, my grandparents were my grandparents, and I didn't, I don't think I really identified as being Japanese Canadian. I was just a kid, and we were living our life. And my, I would say I probably spent a lot of time with my Mum's side of the family, and then kind of have more cousins on that side of the family. And my aunt on my Dad's side lives in Hawaii, so we didn't get to see her that often, but my uncle was around and he's got three kids. And then, my Dad died when I was 12, and that really shifted a lot of things. And then my grandparents, on my Dad's side, my grandfather died a year after my Dad. So, basically within a year, my grandmother lost her son, her husband and her sister. And my grandfather's brother as well. So it was just a lot of illness and sickness and kind of a lot of sadness. I don't think my grandmother really ever recovered. She died when I was in my early 20s. So I did have those years with her. I think my early years, I got to kind of spend good time with them, but I didn't really get to ask questions, because it was, circumstances were challenging and hard.
HR
And sometimes when you're that age too, I think you don't think to ask questions about history, and...
EN
No, absolutely not. I mean, I think they would talk about the internment. Well, in very loose terms, we knew that that had happened. But, my sister and I both have talked about it, both of us really said that we didn't ever feel like we had kind of full permission to be asking those questions. And so we didn't. We wouldn't-my Mum was, is very good at asking questions. And so she would often raise them, and my sister and I would sit and listen. But I think my grandmother focused more on her early years, so I knew those stories really well. And we would look, I remember looking through albums with them, but I didn't write anything down, and I didn't think to record anything. And I wish that I had, for sure.
HR
Stepping back a generation, do you know how your parents met?
EN
My parents met, my Mum, they were both living in Toronto. They actually had both gone to Queens for their undergrad, but didn't meet each other, but had a mutual friend, so then kind of met that way. And, pause they were happily married for I don't know how many years. But, quite a while.
HR
Nice. And it's just you and your sister?
EN
Yup, just my sister and I, yea.
HR
And then, stepping back a generation again, do you know when your Dad's parents would have arrived in Ontario?
EN
When did they arrive in Ontario? They arrived in Ontario in '47.
HR
Ok.
EN
So both of them were born in Vancouver, and then for separate reasons they were both really raised in Japan. My grandfather, I think life wasn't really panning out the way that they had expected, so-I don't know, I don't remember how old he was when he went back. Maybe 5, maybe 7. And so the whole family went back and kind of intended, I think, to move back permanently. And he, they didn't have a lot of money. They were farmers. My grandfather did up to grade 7 or 8 I think, and then he had to stop school and get working. So he apprenticed in a kimono factory, or in a textile factory-I'm not really sure. And then he was one of three, and he and his older brother came back to Canada, right before the war. I think it was maybe '39. I think someone had said immigration was closing down, and I don't really know what things looked like then, but they said if you want to go back, you need to go now. And I think the intention was for my grandfather's youngest brother to come when he finished school. But then the war happened, so then my grandfather and his brother were interned, and the youngest one stayed and fought for Japan. And he lives there still, in Japan.
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HR
And is the family in touch with him at all?
EN
We went to visit. I went with my Mum and sister several years ago now. I got to meet him and his son and their kids. And they have no English, and we have no Japanese, but my aunt was there, and she taught on and off in Japan, so she has some Japanese, so she was kind of a translator. So that was pretty fascinating to meet that family, and there were so many family resemblances, and its such a cultural difference, and these different lives, and if the war had been a few years later, they all would have been in Canada. So it's just a very weird, yea, life is pretty fascinating.
HR
It is fascinating. War has, wars, I guess, anywhere have a way of rupturing families and creating new ones, yea.
EN
Yea, yea, kind of different paths and trajectories. So, it was, yea, very exciting, to see, to meet them. And then my grandmother, her and her two sisters, I think the marriage wasn't working out very well for her Mum, so she decided to take the girls to Japan. And then, was living with her inlaws, and I don't think that was going super smoothly either. So she decided it was better to come back to Canada and try to make her marriage work. But the grandmother said that she had to leave one of the girls to help in the kitchen. So, unable to leave one of them on her own, she left the older two. Which was my grandmother and her middle sister. And so the youngest came back to Canada, and was really raised as an only child, and my grandmother stayed for ten years in Japan. And then, when she was 16, said I want to go back to Canada. So then she came back, probably it was about '38 or '39.
HR
Oh geez, just in time.
EN
Just in time. laughs. So then, she was put into a kindergarten class, because there was no such thing as ESL. And I have her school photos where she looks like the assistant. And then she had a couple years of school, and then was interned. So, she had a rough, rough story. She was a lovely woman, and had definitely, definitely had some edges and had some history that wasn't so happy.
HR
Yea definitely. And so, all of the-we'll get into kind of the story of your discovery of the dresses and things like that-but all of what you've just described, I'm assuming is history that you've learned subsequently?
EN
Um, I think most of, I think I probably have more clarity now. But I think vaguely I knew this story. And my grandmother talked about her years in Japan kind of way more than she ever talked about the internment. I think that was in some way, she felt, really abandoned by her family in Japan. And kind of really those early years of growing up. And I don't know, this is me thinking about it, but I think probably in that that was kind of a personal story, and family, and something that was somewhat, I mean, I don't think she could ever come to terms with it, but she could understand it in a different way, than they couldn't get their heads around the internment. Which was fair enough. And so my grandmother's family, they owned boarding houses in Vancouver. And so, I'm not sure if they had three of them, but they definitely had two, and it might have just been that they had one and then they moved it to a different. So, one was on Keefer Street, and one was on Powell, I believe. And then, they lost that, and they also had a fishing boat as well. And then just kind of thinking about the, the land, and all of that aspect. I have no idea what happened to any of it. I do have some addresses, and when I went to, when I went to Vancouver and kind of found old addresses and was taking pictures and stuff. But clearly, it's kind of new structures and things like that now.
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HR
Yea, someone was saying to me recently that Vancouver is really not interested in heritage in the way that other parts of Canada are, so that its instead of preserving an old building or fixing it up, its, “Let's make a condo!”
EN
Yea, yea. Well, there's a little less space, too.
HR
laughs Yes, they do have the mountains bounding them in.
EN
They do.
HR
Are you, do you have the sense in your family, are you one of the only people who are interested in doing trips like that, to go look at old addresses?
EN
Um, I mean I've really, I've been the lead force on researching this side of my family. My aunt's done a tonne of research on my Scottish side. And so they have gone back to Scotland and kind of traced all of that. My aunt did do trips out west with my grandmother, um, and so I did a trip with my Mum and my sister to visit the interior, and to go and visit the camp sites. And then we went to Vancouver after, so that was kind of when I was immersed in my own research, so that was very focused and, yea. Driven destination laughs.
HR
Have you, have you ever had the same curiosity about your Scottish side?
EN
I do. I think it's, I know it's interesting and I feel a lot of people are “When's the other half going to get done?” both laugh. Um, and I don't, I mean I have such a fondness and appreciation for it all. I think it's probably kind of multilayered, given that I look more Japanese than I do look Scottish. The kind of experiences that I have, the social interactions that I have, have very clearly enforced the, reinforced the Japanese side. And I think also its a way for me to connect with that side of my family, that isn't really around anymore. So it's been a way to, kind of, really connect and explore that. And then all of this history, is just, yea, I think when I started investigating this family story in my work, I had no idea that I would be sitting here seven years later. Yea. It's just kind of taken off. So.
HR
Yea, and it's, I can see how it would be a fascinating for you to uncover. Like, the, I am also part Scottish, and the Scottish parts of Canadian history are kind of well defined, and there's a lot of, there's a lot written about it. There's a lot known about it. But this particular history is still kind of, people are just starting to feel comfortable talking about it again.
EN
And it's so, there was such a rawness to it. And such silence with my grandparents. Whereas, I would, my Scottish grandparents, we would, my grandfather was very open about his experience during the war. And he wrote his little memoir and he was, kind of much more open and forthright about it all. So there isn't that, um, yea, I don't know. Who knows? I mean maybe in ten years, that's where I'll be. Hard to know.
HR
laughs What you were just saying brings up a question about racial identity, and your racial experiences in Toronto. When you were a child, were you kind of, did you feel different? Did you feel...?
EN
As a kid, no. I don't think so. I had a handful of friends who were also half Japanese, who all had Japanese fathers, because my Dad played on a Japanese-Canadian hockey league. So, all of the white wives in the stands made friends laughs. So, we have this lovely circle of friends. And kind of that's how they met, so then, anyhow, it's quite funny. So there was kind of our very close friends, and I call them my brothers now really. And we went to the same high schools, and everyone thought we were related.
HR
Aw.
EN
Yea. But I think I didn't really start, I mean over the years it became more apparent, and people would ask-I mean, people ask me all the time, when I'm on the subway, when I'm walking around. There's a lot of, I think, at the root of it its about curiosity. And I think its very helpful to hang on to that piece. I think sometimes it can feel very judgmental, and there's other ideas behind the words, but, on the whole it's been amazing to live in Toronto.
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EN
And I think when I started to be an artist, and be, have more of a public persona, and public profile, then I got asked way more. When I did the One of a Kind Show, I was talking to people all day every day, and a lot of people. And it's this way that I think, kind of the everyday person is just chatting with the artist, and somehow they are looking at your work, so they feel like they have permission to ask you everything. And my last name is Nishimura, so that's, that's a good invitation for them.
HR
I'm now just imagining all the people you probably would have talked to at the One of a Kind Show and feeling badly for you both laugh.
EN
There were some special ones both laugh. And then I went to, I went to grad school in Lincoln, Nebraska, which is pretty white. And there is a pretty strong Vietnamese population, a pretty large Vietnamese population, but its very segregated. So, it was, I had a lot of interesting experiences there. Some not super positive. And some were just really funny. So, it's really helpful to have humour to it. The “What are you?” question is, yup, pretty frequent, for sure.
HR
It's funny, I get the “What are you?” question too, and I'm like, almost exclusively British stock, with like a dash of German. Like, it's, I think there's something, people see a round face and dark hair, and they want to place you, right?
EN
Totally. It's categories. People love the categories, and they just want to know. I get, people ask if I'm Native quite a bit. That's probably the one that I get the most, if people don't know my last name. Or they come up to me and speak Spanish, or they, any language. It's, yea. laughs.
HR
You'd be a wonderful spy then.
EN
Right? laughs
HR
Do you find, uh, do you find yourself identifying more with the Japanese Canadian community in Toronto as you get older? Does it...?
EN
Um, it's interesting. I mean, this project has been so good, and I just recently had a show at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, so that was such a lovely experience, to kind of feel like I was a bit more a part of the community. We visited the JCCC a couple times when I was growing up, but not a lot. And, as I was saying earlier, I don't really have a lot of, I'm not in touch, or they're not around anymore, of the Japanese Canadians in my family, so, I'm predominantly surrounded by my Scottish family. So, there's a way that I'm not, that part of the community hasn't really been a big part of my life. So, this project, and all of my work, it's been really interesting to kind of get pulled into it. And there's a way that then I can, I mean, just even being in the room the other week with Keo and Frank, I just feel like I'm hanging with my grandparents again, and there's this real affinity. Or I see a tiny little Japanese woman walking around and I just want to hug them. laughs. So, it's, I think, yea, it's an interesting kind of multilayered, for me.
HR
Was your Dad engaged with the Japanese Canadian community?
EN
Um pause. I guess he played on the hockey team. I think really growing up, he knew one other, I think there was maybe, I think he was the only Japanese Canadian at his high school. It was, he grew up in, they were in Hamilton first, and then Mississauga, er, then Oakville, then Mississauga. My grandfather ran an Esso Station. I don't know, I think really post-internment, it was so much about assimilation, and yea. I don't really think he had a lot of Japanese Canadian friends. I think at Queen's there was maybe two of them, or maybe three.
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HR
That's a common story that I've been hearing, and I've only been interviewing for 9 months or so.
EN
Yea, yea, so.
HR
After internment, there were even a few people who said they distinctly didn't want to teach their children the Japanese language, to try and cut the ties as much as possible.
EN
Totally. And so my Dad, he was the eldest and he, they were speaking Japanese at home, and he went to kindergarten, and the first day, after the first day, the teacher called home and said “I can't understand your son.” And so from that point on they stopped speaking Japanese in the house. So, then he didn't have any of the language, and none of the kids did, until my aunt started teaching. So he would always say that when he travelled and did business and sometimes he had to go to Japan, he would be treated quite poorly in comparison to his white business colleagues. Because he looked every bit Japanese, but had no language. And was the foreigner, really. So, I think it was always a, kind of complicated. And, I didn't really get to ask any of those questions. A lot of these stories are passed down from my Mum. You know, I was, he was just my Dad. Yea.
HR
And, so my next question was about your Mum, actually. You mentioned earlier that she did a lot of question asking, and was curious about things?
EN
Was always very curious and I think in some ways she had maybe more permission to ask questions than my Dad did. I think she, is good at asking questions, and there was kind of that neutral territory. And she didn't grow up with silence, and kind of this, this space of not asking and not talking about it. So, I think she would be tactful, but I think could kind of ask questions in a different way.
HR
There's something too that we talk about when we learn the practice of interviewing, that who you are in relation to who you're talking to really defines kind of the kinds of answers you're going to get.
EN
Absolutely.
HR
So insiders to a group can get a particular range of things, but outsiders sometimes have more freedom to ask the simpler questions.
EN
And kind of those clarity questions even, that then can open the door to lots of other things. It has been interesting though, because I, for my work, I started, I talked to my aunt, and I talked to my Mum. And I recorded our conversations, kind of early on. And I wanted to get things just recorded, so that things, I wanted to see how things would change as we got going. And I asked my Mum to tell me her version of my grandparents story, and she did, and I have that recorded. And I had my aunt say the same thing, and they have a whole other, two totally different stories about how my grandparents met. And kind of all of these gaps in the story. And I don't know that I'll ever know the answers to it. But it's, it's just really interesting to see how things, how things got told and interpreted and remembered and forgotten.
HR
For sure, yea.
EN
All those things.
HR
Yea, I could see how artistically it becomes some of your work, in terms of the gaps and the missing pieces in images.
EN
Totally, yea, yea.
HR
Um, what, so you're aunt, that you're speaking of is the one who lives in Hawaii?
EN
She's now travelling.
HR
Ok.
EN
But I think will probably end up in San Diego laughs. But yes, she is retired, and her and her husband have been travelling for quite a while now.
HR
And so, do you have a sense of how, in addition to your aunt, how the story has trickled down into the other kind of cousin arms of your family? Are there other cousins who are interested?
EN
My uncle, they live in Scarborough, he's got three kids. We're not super close. So, I think the kids have been kind of interested, but I don't, I couldn't really speak to that. I don't, yea. I don't know them super well.
HR
One of the focuses of this particular project is property. And the experience of losing property, and kind of what that does to families. So I have a few questions about that. Maybe starting with, again your childhood house and things you remember, was there anything that was an heirloom that somebody saved from Vancouver, or from the camps. Something special?
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EN
We had, really my grandmother's house was just full of everything. And she kept everything. Her fridge was kind of horrifying. But every rubber band, every thing of tupperware, you should save it. And I think, and then my aunt has become the polar opposite and kind of wants nothing. But I think, for me, and how I've interpreted that, is just kind of after you lose everything, then you want to hang on to everything. I don't know if, if she hadn't had the experience of the internment maybe she still would have had a full house of everything, but that was always very apparent. We had, she, I think the thing that my grandmother talked about the most was the kimono that she came back to Canada in. So, her Dad went and picked her, went and got her and they came back on a boat, and she was wearing this special kimono and obi. And then there was, I think a, an early boyfriend in one of the camps made her a yardstick. And this little funny cupboard thing. And we still have the cupboard, and the yardstick is somewhere.
HR
Like yardstick, like for measuring?
EN
Yup.
HR
Wow. laughs
EN
Yea, but she was a seamstress. So I think that probably would have had some use.
HR
Ah, yea.
EN
It was in the sewing room at her place in Mississauga.
HR
That is very sweet then.
EN
Yea, yea, yea. And I didn't know, I mean those were kind of the things that I remember. It was more fabric and kind of, and that obi. And that obi then had kind of a sad story to it to, in that my grandmother lost it, and she couldn't find it. And she kept asking her sister if she had it. And her sister said she didn't, and then after her sister died we found it in her apartment.
HR
Oh dear.
EN
So, and she had been the one who had been kind of raised as the only child. So their relationship was always very prickly, I think. Because then my grandmother came back when she was 16, and yea, dynamics were tricky.
HR
Oh families.
EN
Oh families laughs.
HR
That's a fascinating story.
EN
Yea, yea. So, and now, I don't actually know what the obi looks like. So I tell this story, and I probably have it, but I don't know which one it is. I think, in all of those moments, that's when you just, you don't write it all down, or you don't... yea.
HR
Did your grandparents own a house in Toronto?
EN
They, when they moved, they initially moved to Hamilton, and so they lived with my, with their, with my grandmother's parents, who had moved out a little bit earlier. So, Jubi, my grandmother's sister, she came east first, to Hamilton, and then kind of got her parents to come. And then my grandparents came. So, yes, I think my great grandfather, they helped with a downpayment on a house in Hamilton. I'm actually going to Hamilton on Sunday to find these old houses. And then, so they moved around a little bit in Hamilton, and then they moved to Oakville, and Dad really, the kids all went to high school in Oakville. And that's where my grandfather had an Esso Station there. And then, then they were in Mississauga after that. So, I knew their Mississauga house. And then my grandmother moved to a condo, later on. In Scarborough.
HR
It, yea, I love hearing even like the, obviously it's third hand hearing it from you, but I love hearing the stories of how many different properties people often owned after the internment. It really feels, I mean it's a little bit of pop psychology I guess, but it feels like “Property, I'm going to buy it.”
EN
Absolutely, yea, yea. And when they left, they were working on Cold Stream Ranch, in, just outside of Vernon, and I have photos of this shack that they were living in. And my Dad was 1, and then my grandmother was pregnant with my aunt Kathy, and I think basically was kind of having a meltdown. And the doctor said, “You need to,” kind of “you can't live in this situation anymore.” They had to walk for water, they had to kind of, like, living was pretty hard. So then, they-and her parents had already moved east, so then they eventually did that and then Kathy was born in Hamilton.
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HR
Do you know if they ever wanted to move back west, or was it once they'd come out...?
EN
I don't know. I don't know. I didn't ever-it was interesting to hear Keo and Frank.
HR
I know, they were so different.
EN
So vastly different reactions and responses to whether they wanted to move back. And I didn't ever ask. Yea. Yea.
HR
You mentioned a few names, and I realized it would be really helpful for us to get names of your grandparents.
EN
Yes, yes. Yes.
HR
What were your grandparents names?
EN
Mary Matsuoka, but kind of Mieko is her Japanese name. And then my grandfather was Pio Nishimura, but Kay is what he went by.
HR
And then your Dad, your Mum and Dad's names?
EN
Uh, Glenn Nishimura and Jeannie Nishimura is my Mum's.
HR
Thank you.
EN
Yea. And a good note about names is so my grandparents, because they were both, really spent their formative years in Japan, they both had an accent. They didn't really know, in terms of Canadian names for their kids, they asked my aunt's, my grandmother's sister, because she had, she had been the one raised in Vancouver, kind of what good names would be. So the names of the kids are Glenn, Kathy and Allan.
HR
Oh, those are really “Canadian”, that's true!
EN
And really hard if you have an accent. So basically, it was Grenn, Kassie and Aaron.
HR
Wow. both laugh.
EN
Yea, so, we didn't ever know if that was like a spiteful thing, or if it was just... laughs.
HR
Yea.
EN
Yea, they're kind of good Canadian names.
HR
Good Canadian names, and maybe not thinking about the advice. Wow.
EN
Yea.
HR
Glenn in particular seems really like, Glenn is a like a lumberjack.
EN
Yea, yea. laughs. So. Yea, and I think, when I talked to, because I had been doing some digging, when I talked to my aunt about kind of when they first learned about the internment, and what kind of stories, when were they hearing those sorts of things, she said it wasn't until they were learning about it in school. And when Ken Adachi's book came out, which was not til '75. So, um, my aunt said that they would look through my grandfather's old photo albums, and he would just say “That's where I worked.” And those were the road camps. Which is true. And there was definitely not a lot of oversharing. laughs
HR
Do you know if they received any of the Redress compensation?
EN
Mmhmm. Yea. So my grandparents got the Redress, and my aunt and my Dad did. But the youngest brother did not, because he was born just after the cut off. So that was a very awkward thing.
HR
Do you have a sense of what the family, um, I don't know what the word I want is. Like, what the feeling was about Redress? Was it...?
EN
I don't even remember.
HR
Yea, you would have been quite young at the time.
EN
Yea, I was 7 at the time, and I think, yea, that all just went right over my head. And then I didn't ever talk about Redress specifically with my grandmother as I got older. I know that one of my Dad's good friends was heavily involved in the Redress movement. He's out in Kingston, Ken Otaki. Anyhow, I'll try and get you guys connected, because that would, he would be a good person to get looped in. But I don't know that, my Dad definitely wasn't kind of involved in that movement. And I don't, I don't know how he felt about it at all.
HR
Yea, I mean, people that I've been meeting, it's almost like there's two camps. There's the really politically active, and then there's the “It just kind of happened and then we got this money, and we're moving on with life...”
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EN
Yea, yea, yea. So. Yea, I mean, it's interesting, just all these questions make me think “Oh yea! I have no idea...” both laugh So many things are just left in the unknown.
HR
I think, I think too, we've been trying to get in touch with a variety of generations and I can think of another interview actually, with someone I think of approximately our age, who had similar sort of “I don't really know. I don't really know what my grandparents thought of it. I don't really know, but it's been a curiosity for me.” She's, I think a playwright in Vancouver, and so is similarly kind of artistically exploring some aspects, but doesn't have the grounding in experience necessarily.
EN
Yea, it's, it's very, there's just so much you don't know. So, I have learned so much, and pulled together so much information, just in asking different people and really trying to get things written down, so that all the details don't just disappear and evaporate. And I think it is realizing that, you know, to a certain extent, I'm not going to be able to know everything. Well, not that you are ever are, every story is told by a different perspective. But, there's definitely lots of gaps.
HR
Maybe. I'd love to get you to talk about the specifics of what you know about your grandparents internment experiences. I also want to get like, 'the' story of you finding the box on tape. Does that make sense to do here, or should we...?
EN
Yea, well, I can talk more specifically about my grandparents experience during the internment. So my grandmother, well, I don't even really, she was sent to Slocan, with her sister. So her, the middle sister stayed in Japan. And didn't come back to Canada til about '75, I believe.
HR
That's quite a long time.
EN
So, I didn't ever meet that sister. But my grandmother and her younger sister and her parents were all sent to Slocan. And I think I remember talking about, when we read Obasan in high school, then we talked. Then I was talking to my grandmother about it. And we probably looked through her albums and things like that. But I really don't have a sense at all of what that was like for her. My aunt has a story, remembered a story about her going to one of the other camps, because Slocan City and Popoff and Bay Farm were all so close together. So I think she must have been visiting a friend in a neighbouring camp, and she was a little bit late, and so the RCMP officer didn't treat her well at all. And as a result, well, many experiences I'm sure, my grandmother didn't ever really have any nice things to say about the RCMP. But, I really don't know much about her time there. And I have no idea what happened to their property. I mean, I know it was confiscated, and the boat was sold and all that stuff. And then at some point, she ended up at Cold Stream Ranch. And I don't know if they left the camp early to work over there, but her mother was brought in to work, to do the books at the farm. And according to my Mum, that's where my grandmother met my grandfather. My aunt thinks they met in Slocan, so I don't really know the details. My grandfather, when he came back to Canada, he was, oh he was in Steveston. So, I don't know if he was working on boats there, or lumber? I feel like it was a mill town as well. Steveston?
HR
I know it predominantly as fishing, but again, I'm only about 9 months into this.
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00:39:58.000
EN
So, yea, anyhow, I did find some sort of card of his, that had his address in Steveston. And then he was sent to work to one of the road camps. And so he was sent up to actually the same camp that Frank was sent to. So, between Salmon Arm and Revelstoke. And then his brother was involved in the Young Buddhists Society, and was deemed a threat, and so he was set to Schriver, Ontario, and was sent to the camp there. So, because the Young Buddhists were really scary people. laughs. Um, and I don't know really know much of Yosh's story either. Yosh is my grandfather's brother. And then, so my grandfather worked on the road camp, and then ended up at Cold Stream Ranch as well. And then he was good at math, so he was brought in to help with the books. So according to my Mum's story, that's, that's how they met. And then my Dad was born in '47. So they were married and had my Dad pretty all close together to when the war ended and things. Oh no, my Dad was born in '46.
HR
I kind of love the potential of the love story through accounting. There's something really sweet about that.
EN
Through a future mother-in-law? laughs And the son. Yea, yea, yea, it's great.
HR
As you were talking I was, uh, somehow struck with just the, like, the list of like, “And then this terrible thing happened to this relative, and then this terrible thing happened to this relative...” What's that like for you to think about? Does it feel like baggage for you?
EN
Yea, yea, it does, for sure. And I think there's a way that being able to make art about it and talk about it, there's a way to share that. Share those stories, and knowing that, you know, everyone has stories and everyone has experience. And it's helpful to talk about it. And it's helpful to, kind of, I don't know, working through is never-you know, you're never going to get through it all. But it's kind of wading around in it all. It's been a really interesting process for me. And really deeply personal and meaningful. And then kind of showing my work to other people and having this bigger discussion has been so exciting, and kind of seeing that resonate and land with other people, makes it all so much more meaningful. There really is kind of these endless lists of, of traumatic experiences. And, then, kind of how, what people made of their lives, and that kind of struggle to push through. Yea. And, those are the stories that I just grew up with. And that's just what it is.
HR
It's um, I think there's also, there's for people of our generation, there's all kinds of war stories that if we thought to peel back layers, that all grandparents would have had some story of hardship. Not necessarily the racial injustice, but there were lots of other...
EN
Absolutely.
HR
Bad things that happened during that period of time.
EN
So many, so many things. And so many things are happening right now. So I think in that way of kind of this continued pursuit to really look at this story within my art feels very important. Just to, to keep reaching out, because now I mean, it goes beyond the Japanese Canadian community. I mean, there is that immediate experience, but there's a lot of people who understand it.
HR
That brings up an interesting question. Do you, my experience so far with the Japanese Canadian community, and with other communities that have experienced injustice, that they sometimes don't, it's difficult to see the extension outside for some people? Have you found that with people who... I guess how have... maybe I'll rephrase the question. What's it been like showing your artwork to people who are non-Japanese Canadian, versus people who are Japanese Canadian?
00:44:36.000
00:44:36.000
EN
Really good experience on both sides, I would say. It was interesting doing grad school in the States. So, really diving into this research for three years, and the majority of Americans didn't know that the internment happened in Canada. And, geographically, they had kind of the visual of what the American camps looked like. So it was very, very contrasted to kind of these barbed wire fence experience to these crazy beautiful mountains. So trying to reconcile all of that, and just to talk about it. I think a lot of it, a lot of times it feels like a big education piece. So it's talking about that. But then, really I would say, kind of then everyone turns around and tells me their stories, and what their grandparents experienced, or what their parents experienced. So it's this way that all of a sudden we're just sharing stories and talking about things. And I had someone recently, I had a show up in uh, Huntsville last, two years ago maybe. And one of my friends had been in the gallery and a school group had come through. And one of the teachers, or one of the visitors had Alzheimers and was staring at one of my pieces with all of these cut away landscapes. And she just said “This is what it's like, when you just lose whole sections, and you can't access them anymore.” So, and that was just totally phenomenal to me, to just think about that and, I mean so much of my work is about the story, but it's also about memory in general and what gets forgotten and what gets remembered. And that, then it's, that the work can reach and speak to that world of things as well is very, um, yea, interesting, and terribly meaningful.
HR
Yea, that's a beautiful encounter too.
EN
Yea, yea.
HR
This may be a good moment then, for us to talk about the germ of your artwork.
EN
Yes, yes! So my grandmother when she, um, came back, I don't know how much school she did. And then at some point, in 1941, she took a drafting class. She was really, I think, for a lot of women, female Japanese Canadians, it was very difficult to get work. So being a seamstress was a very viable, viable option. Um, so I think that's what, kind of that plan was. Growing up, I knew that she could sew. She made my sister and I fabulous matching dresses and matching dresses for our Cabbage Patch kids. both laugh.
HR
Oh, I want to see pictures of that!
EN
They were the cutest things ever. I spent a weekend sewing with her when I was in high school, and that was a weekend not to be repeated. I had already learned some sewing and she had very old school methods. I said “Can't we just do this?” And, “No no, it has to be done this way.” So, I'd had those experience of her, and kind of knowing, I mean she had a sewing room in the house, with the yardstick from the boyfriend from the camps. But then, in I think it was 2008, I submitted a grant to Ontario Arts Council to kind of propose a body of work about looking at what it meant to be mixed, or... I wasn't really sure, it was kind of a vague. And then I got the grant, and I was at my Mum's looking through, kind of digging around the in the basement, trying to find old family photos. I knew, I remembered all the albums, but I didn't know where they were. And I came across an old box that just said drafting patterns on it. And after my grandmother had died-this was maybe four years after she died, maybe six-anything that was sewing related just came to me. And we just, I didn't open it. She had so much stuff. Anyhow, it all got relegated to a room in my Mum's basement, and I was in university, undergrad and things... loud sounds outside the window. Emma pauses until they pass So I came across this drafting, this box of drafting something, so I opened it up, and there were five drafting books. Heather coughs and gets water I opened up this box. There's five books of patterns and probably about 200 paper articles of clothing. And so the drafting books were from her class in 1941, and kind of everything is in immaculate condition, and this clearly survived the camps. I have no idea where it was stored, or if they took-like I just have no idea about its history.
00:50:00.000
00:50:00.000
EN
And I remember just being so excited, and my Mum, I wasn't living at home at that point, but my Mum came home and I came running upstairs from the basement, and said “Look what I found!” And she said “Oh did you make that today?” I said “No, Bachan did in 1941!” And then, that really set in motion my work for the last 8 years. I started to, I learned how to read her patterns. I started making and remaking those garments using paper as well. Combining them with my etchings. And then morphed into making large scale garments that would fit me, all also out of paper. all pause discussion to close windows
00:51:10.000
00:51:10.000
EN
Emma asks Kiyoye about lighting and they adjust the lights in the roomBut I was, when you had mentioned baggage, that's been I think, after I found that box, and I had been working with that story for awhile, I realized that it had started, the box itself was this huge weight. And I didn't feel like I was done with it, but I knew I needed to move on and start making different work. Plus I was in the middle of kind of starting off grad school, and there's endless critiques and endless conversations about it all. And this real encouragement to move on and keep making new things. But I kept coming back to the box, and I didn't feel like I could let it go. And so, thinking about this idea of baggage, I made a giant paper furoshiki, and I started making life size garments and I would, every time I would finish making them I would put them inside the paper furoshiki, and it became a bit of a performance piece, kind of just for me. So for about a month I would make a garment, and put it in this bag, and slowly that bag grew, and I took it everywhere. And over time, those garments got super crushed and crinkled, and really worn down. And eventually it became too much, like literal baggage, and I was tired of the performance. So I stopped carrying them around, but I kept making the garments. And then that turned into an installation project. And now I'm actually returning to the furoshiki form and really kind of continuing to look at this idea of baggage. And kind of just looking at it in a bit of a different perspective now.
HR
Has it, has your artwork always been defined by your grandmother's experience? Or does your grandfather's experience enter into it at all?
EN
My grandfather's story entered into it, kind of, I think the garments were very much associated with my grandmother. And then when I started to do new work after my family trip out to visit the internment camp sites, then that became about their collective experience, as well as the wider Japanese Canadian community. And I also was able to get in touch with my aunt and uncle and they had all of the family albums, so then I was able to access all of those. So then I was able to get some more history about my grandfather. And so I've created a large mapping project that maps the, it began as mapping the key areas that my grandparents lived in, or worked within the interior. And so that was a lot of kind of digging around of information for both of them.
HR
Can you tell me a little bit about what your family's response to the artwork has been?
EN
They've all been incredibly supportive and intrigued and happy to participate.
HR
That's great.
EN
Which has been really wonderful. Yes, I think they've just been endlessly supportive. And yea, the work just kind of keeps changing and growing, but yea. They, they've been very helpful in terms of pulling pieces together, and kind of as I have different interview experiences, or am writing different things for different people, it's always about figuring out how much to share, or what to keep. So they are very good sounding boards for kind of navigating, navigating all of that.
00:55:25.000
00:55:25.000
HR
Do you have a sense that your artwork has prompted storysharing amongst other people in the family?
EN
We've definitely put together way more information now than we had before. Kind of pulling in what my aunt knew, really having it all in one place. That's helpful. But I think, yea, there's also kind of a certain threshold, that we just don't really have anything more. laughs So now the work is starting to grow and kind of go outside of my family and reach out to the wider community, which is an exciting new phase in the development of the work. Which is amazingly timed with this project both laugh. Which is super exciting.
HR
Who knew meeting on the One of a Kind Show floor?
EN
Right? 10 years ago? 8 years ago? Heather laughs
HR
Oh my god, has it really been that long? That's crazy.
EN
When did-I did my first One of a Kind in 2006 or 7.
HR
Yea, I started 2008, so we're looking at 8 years.
EN
Ok. Yea. There you go.
HR
That's crazy laughs. Wow. Can we see some artwork?
EN
Yea, absolutely. So even just right here, turning around these are the first two pieces in a series of 9. all stand up and look at two large images above the couch discussion about lighting for photographs of art
EN
So these pieces I made at grad school. And so it's a sequence of nine. So these are the first two. So these were all, I basically took hundreds of photos when I visited the internment camp. So this is all photos from around Slocan Lake. And for this piece and the series of work, I essentially made this composite landscape. It wasn't about recreating exactly the landscape, it was just creating this continuous horizon line. And this shifting sky. So thinking about, it's a landscape that has witnessed so much but changed so little over the years. And its about my own experience there, as fourth generation, or, kind of the third generation of this story. And so this first piece, is in kind of full colour. And then by the very end, it's just white on white. And those, the white on white ones, are photo etchings of a 1928 sky from my grandfather's photo album. And they are printed in white. So when you are looking at the images you actually can't see anything, but if you were to hold it up to the light, you'd be able to see this sky.
HR
Oh wow.
EN
So, thinking about kind of what's shared, but also what's kept hidden for multiple reasons. Kind of really looking at that. And as you go kind of though a whole section of them, the clouds get cut away. There's more paper-cutting into it as the series goes. And then by the end it's all pretty invisible.
HR
I love the idea though, that if you know how to look at it, that you would be able to see it. That if you, it's almost like if you ask the right questions and you know, you'll get the answer...
EN
But otherwise, on first glance it just looks like a white piece of paper.
HR
Yea, beautiful. There's something lovely about the art too, that it's-like I associate Japanese art with, with paper, and paper cutting and, there's something really, there's a nice synergy that you have going on there.
EN
And I've been using Japanese paper for years and years. I always laugh and say that the owner of the Japanese paper place, when I was in grade three, I decided to do a speech on Japanese paper Heather laughs. Because I'm that cool. And I share this story with my students just to, you know... So, I have been working with Japanese paper for a long time. And, the work is, you know it can be sculptural, it can be printmaking, it can be digital printmaking, but kind of the one constant is always that its on Japanese paper. There's a real materiality that I get excited about.
01:00:18.000
01:00:18.000
HR
Do you know how to make Japanese paper?
EN
I do, yea. And so, one of the new series, one of the new projects is making, it's actually not Japanese paper, but I'm making paper for this new sculptural project.
HR
Cool.
EN
Yea, yea. So we can go around into my studio all walk down the hall to her studio, stopping in her bedroom first to look at a piece on the wall. So this piece here is one of my early prints. This might be really hard to photograph, the light is...
HR
We can just talk about this one.
EN
Yea, so this is one of my grandmother's patterns that then I've recreated. And this series of work was very much about assimilation and kind of that feeling of needing to disappear into the kind of Eastern landscapes. Like, Ontario, just really, become, become a 'regular' person.
HR
And so the background image is Ontario trees, then?
EN
No, actually, this is Hawaii. both laugh.
HR
People wanted to disappear into Hawaii too.
EN
Exactly. So this was when I had been out visiting my aunt. But, so I was using a lot of prints that I had previously made, but basically kind of all of these garments are kind of dissolving into that background. And I was really touched when Keo, the other week, was saying that he would have given anything to disappear. Or be invisible. In both Vancouver and then again in Japan, and really that's what this series of work is really all about.
HR
Yea, no, the visual, like the visual language of the garment really just blending in with the background is quite powerful.
EN
So, that's what I made. all head over to the studio in the adjoining room
EN
So this is the book of patterns, so this is one of the five books. sound of microphone being adjusted, while discussions of photography lighting take place. And so, this notebook was inside this book. And so, well, so the books are all dated July 21, 1941. And there's this lovely mix of English and Japanese.
HR
Do you think she would have drawn these images?
EN
Um, I feel like I've, they might have been traced and transferred in. Basically there's a drawing, these like amazing drawings for each of them. So, I found a couple other sources, that look-so, I'm not really sure, I don't know. And so this first book is kind of all these, kind of how to make a sleeve, how to make a collar. And then the other four books, well, I mean, this one is...
HR
Sailor collared blouse!
EN
And they're just the most amazing garments, because they are all early 1940s.
HR
It's amazing how good condition it's in, too.
EN
And so this is, I mean I have no idea how it survived, or what its journey was.
HR
Totally.
EN
And so I learned how to, how to read all of these patterns. But inside this first book, was this booklet, so this is February 1st, 1943. And so she would have been in Slocan at this point. And basically this is just drawings of other garments, and Japanese names and measurements. So...
HR
Oh!
EN
I know, this adorable romper. I mean, I don't know who these people are, but I'm guessing that they would have been interned in Slocan, and she was making clothes. So, I think it was, you know it was the combination of finding the books, but also of finding this book of notepaper, that really was able to... yea.
01:05:23.000
01:05:23.000
HR
I can see how it would be inspiring.
EN
Mmhmm. Yea, so this is March 27, 1944. Yea. And so, I, previously I didn't understand how to read all these patterns, but I've figured it out. Or figured out my version of it.
HR
Did you, did you like talk to anybody who is a textile person? Or did you just kind of trial and error it?
EN
No, trial and error and figured it out, yea, yea. And, you know, used Photoshop and all sorts of things that she wouldn't have had access to both laugh.
HR
How many books are there total?
EN
There are four books, five books?
HR
Wow.
EN
And they're all in pretty good condition. Some of them are more girls' dresses, girl's, boy's, men's, ladies'...
HR
They should be in a museum.
EN
Yea. When I went out to visit the Nikkei Museum in Burnaby, and they have some, like a couple of them. Because really there were so many different drafting schools. And I'd looked on their website, and I found a photo of my grandmother in her sewing school.
HR
Wow!
EN
So, I came across it, and I sent it, I emailed it to my Mum, and kind of to my aunt, and my sister, and I was like “Can you find Bachan in this photo?” And all of them, we all said, “Oh that's her.” You know, kind of second from that top row or whatever. And then, when I went to visit the museum, then I was able to kind of find that photo and look at some of the other patterns. And I discovered what drafting school she went to, from that photo, and have been able to kind of put together those pieces. And so this is the actual box that I had found. And I don't know at what point everything got put into this box. It's just not very exciting, margarine container, margarine box. But essentially, Emma opens box, I mean I sorted a lot of things, but they're just remarkable.
HR
They really are.
EN
This is a good little sailor dress.
HR
Yea, and just to think, that like, this was all sewn.
EN
So, some of those, there's a couple that were machine done, but for the most part they're all hand done.
HR
No. I can't sew that well, that's crazy.
EN
And, yea, so I've really kind figured everything out. There's children's clothes, there's men's clothes. The pants are amazing. They have full on pockets and cuffs. And the pockets work.
HR
Wow, real pockets. Oh.
EN
So, it's...
HR
Wow.
EN
Yup. And basically, I, I made pause while Emma digs out her own creations I made a mockup version, before I would make them larger, the pieces. So, then I would figure out... so these are my versions of... of the clothes. So I did them smaller, but yea. So, I've...
HR
Your grandmother would be proud, these are very impressive as well. Wow.
EN
Yea, they're so detailed. Yea, and like amazing little fringes and, they're just pretty hilarious.
HR
Do you know whether she made these in camp, or would these would have been...
EN
She would have made those as part of school.
HR
And then taken them with her.
EN
Yea, so when I found the box, I contacted my sewing teacher. So I had done sewing classes all through high school, and Suzie came over, and she was just blown away. She had made one of them with her teacher. But she said that's all, you know. That this is what they used to do. Because it's really the mockup and you're understanding the construction of it. And then, the patterns, then you can scale them up as needed.
HR
Huh.
EN
Yea.
HR
It's like a kind of hand skill that's probably not practiced anymore today, eh?
EN
Absolutely. And I mean for me it was very helpful... and once you start making them, all the pieces fall together.
01:10:10.000
01:10:10.000
HR
Yea. It's, ah, it's lovely to imagine to that of all, the, like, when you can only take a few suitcases of stuff with you...
EN
That these survived. Absolutely, I know. And really I didn't know that this box existed until I found it. So she didn't ever, we didn't ever look at these. I knew she sewed, and we sewed together, but I definitely didn't know that these existed.
HR
I can see how you would take them with you though, like this is your trade. Like, this is how you know how to make a living, so...
EN
Yea! Yea, yea.
HR
Do you feel like you are still curious to make work with them, or have you kind of moved on?
EN
I this probably that I will come back to them. I think the installation that I made, I would like to grow it, and make more of them. It's fun, I haven't really looked at these in awhile, and its fun to look at them, and just my creative-I like to make little tiny things. both laugh. So, that's exciting. But, yea, not I've kind of, I usually have a number of projects on the go, so these ones keep sitting on the back burner now.
HR
I almost want to see them all in a room gestures to indicate all the small dress forms spread out across a room.
EN
That's what I really do want to do. What I'd love to do, kind of the vision for this, is to have a show of these, of her work, and her patterns, her book patterns and all of her garments, and then to pair that up with an installation of kind of my creation of the garments in full scale. So then to be able to work, look at both of them.
HR
We should talk more about that when we're not recording. I have like a really nerdy technical question now: how do you get the little pleats, in paper?
EN
You have to baste the paper, and then you, kind of as you would do normally...
HR
Really?
EN
Yea.
HR
Look at that! That's crazy!
EN
I have lots of little tricks, kind of what direction they need to be put in, so that things will come together properly.
HR
How long did these take you?
EN
It usually takes me a couple days to figure out the pattern and then create the mockup. And then awhile longer to then figure out the... what image I'm putting that in, whether I need to make the etching first, or whether I have something suitable. And once I started, initially, I was kind of working with plates that I already had, and then afterwards it was about creating plates specifically to be used for them. Kiyoye gestures to a baby sized garment. All laugh.
HR
So then, do you think it would have taken her, like for a skilled seamstress, would this have taken her a day or two...?
EN
Probably a day. Like once I knew what I was doing, I could sew it in a day. It's, it's hard on your hands. It's tiny. I mean mine are a bit smaller than hers. Um, yea. And then when I, when I-I can find them, the large scale garments that I made-all of the buttons I made out of paper, and kind of everything, everything is paper and thread.
HR
One of my interests after working at the One of a Kind Show and pursuing academics is what people learn through making craft. Can you reflect at all on what you learned from the act of replicating?
EN
I think, kind of this idea of repetition of motion and retracing her, her movements. Was really fascinating to think about. To be pouring over her patterns and trying to figure out what she had meant. And then to be looking at this garment and to picture what her life was like when she was making that, when she was-I think she was 19-when she was taking that course. And that, I don't really know what she would think of all of this. Heather laughs. You know? I mean for her this was very functional.
01:15:09.000
01:15:09.000
EN
I mean there still is real skill and attention to detail, so I can't say that this was, I mean definitely there's some pride, and some... yea, kind of a lot of time spent, was put into them. But I have, I don't know what she would think.
HR
Yea, I relate to that very much. There's some things that one of my grandmothers has taught me that taking it to an artistic inspired direction, would not necessarily understand or approve or appreciate. She'd kind of be like “Ok dear.”
EN
“Ok...” Yea, yea.
HR
I could imagine that it would be a “Oh, you're replicating my patterns...”
EN
“Let's make the clothes.”
HR
The actual clothes.
EN
This is the whole reason that you're doing this. And I'm saying “No, no, I want to make tiny, tiny little garments.” both laugh.
HR
And then big ones out of paper.
EN
And then we're going to talk about all the stories you never want to talk about.
HR
Intergenerational memory is interesting for sure.
EN
Yea, yea. And so, just to kind of show you some, a couple other things. So, maybe behind you guys is, this is a few pieces from the mapping project that I have been working on. sound of microphone being adjusted, and Emma moving around her studio. So, this is Salmon Arm, and then this dark road here is the Trans Canada highway. And so my grandfather worked on a section of road between Sycamuse, which is around here, and then Revelstoke is up here. So basically, there's nine pieces now. So far. And there's only three that we're looking at.
HR
Oh this is the tiny writing.
EN
Yea, so if you look up close, all of these are all text. So I have a magnifying glass here.
KM
Whoa! all laugh
EN
You can look up close.
KM
That's amazing.
EN
And so the text changes depending on what piece you're looking at. So, this piece right now that you're looking at Heather, that's Slocan Lake. And then, kind of that would be New Denver and Silverton. And then Slocan City's down here. And Roseberry's another, which is right in here. And then Sandon is right over here. And so the text that I used for that piece includes Joy-parts of text from Joy Kogawa's Obasan. And when I reread Obasan, I discovered that much of what I had envisioned as my grandmother's experience in Slocan was actually the main character in Obasan's experience. So I was really fascinated by how conflated memories become and, I mean it had been Slocan, so there was, I think for me then it was like, this is what it looked like, this is what it was. And so there's some of that text, and then there's also text from a researcher who's looking at what its like in New Denver currently for the Japanese Canadian population who's still there, and looking at... so kind of really thinking about the land then and now. And then, this piece is Vernon. And so my Dad was born in Vernon. And the text for the Vernon piece is much more about, is all about people's thoughts and experiences of what it was like to have to move east.
HR
How do you choose the text?
EN
Um, kind of different historical texts that I've found. Kind of any, kind of books that I can get my hands on, I take. And then I, kind of, there's a bibliographic reference for each of the prints, citing all of the text that I've used. Yea, and so, over here, this is, these pieces here are all of the maps that I've done.
HR
That's the overall plan.
EN
These ones are done, and now it's starting to grow, so, Tashme's over here. Greenwood. Um, and then I'm just trying to piece together kind of what sites that still need to be done. And then now it's about, because when I first was working it was involved this loop that was very important to my own family's specific experience of kind of where my grandfather worked, where my grandmother was interned, where my Dad was born, and how those all connected. But then, since I've shown this, it's amazing.
01:20:11.000
01:20:11.000
EN
People come up and say “Well, where's Tashme? Where's this? And this is where I was.” So, I'm going to start meeting with the Tashme group at the JCCC, and try and-I'm not really sure, but I'm looking for text for that piece. And, yea, just kind of start doing the research for those site specific ones. For the Kaslo piece, I found, because the New Canadian was published out of Kaslo, so I found one of the first articles that was published, so that text is in there. So just really trying to dig and figure out what was important and what was going on at that location. And as this is an audio recording, the text is so tiny that you can't actually read it. Or you can virtually, you can kind of read it. You can read bits and pieces of it. But, one of the reasons the text is so small is really kind of furthering this idea that those stories and that information is out there, but it's tricky to get your hands on and its hard to access. And that that's a dual, kind of, it's hard for multiple reasons. It's about sharing and it's about not sharing, and remembering, and forgetting, and just... yea.
HR
Would you ever go kind of one step back in the history and do some of the old Japanese neighbourhoods?
EN
That would be super interesting. And I think one of the, there's a Kaslo one, or maybe it's... which one is it. Oh Nakusp. It's super tiny and the town of Nakusp is so small-I had a friend over, and she was with her boyfriend and he grew up in Nakusp. And he was actually able to read it, like a neighbourhood map, because it's such a small community. So that part was exciting to think about. So, absolutely. I mean I love mapping and I love thinking it all through. It's a really interesting way to pull people in. Because everyone knows how to read a map to a certain extent, so you can bring your experience of maps, and then its kind of throwing it on its head a little bit, of kind of how its all constructed.
HR
I'll... I'll check and make sure I have permission to send something to you. But we have a map of the Japantown map of the neighbourhood on Powell Street. And its a fire insurance map that's like, it looks as detailed as some of your tiny writing. Like it's detailed about like, this is where this store was, this is where this...
EN
Amazing.
HR
And it's, it really draws people. We just started showing people the map, but it really, they get really invested in it. And you can, I almost, am inspired by you to have them make like a little, like write little narratives of their family's experience right overtop somehow.
EN
Because it's all about, I mean so much of my work for the past while has been about how to root your experience and how to tie it to place. And so that's what's been important for me to go, when it was, just to go out there. And I made this big sculpture, but very much of, what is it like now to be in that space. And there's a way that we can think about our families and if you have something to hang onto, when its tangible its a lot easier to talk about it.
HR
Definitely, the materiality can, it's almost like you distance yourself a little bit because you're talking about this map. You're not talking about something personal.
EN
Exactly. Yea. So it's, it's all interesting kind of at each show, depending on who's there, people will be kind of pointing and its this real discussion, and it can be that aid to prompt conversations.
HR
Is this kind of where you're at now in terms of your work?
EN
This is one project. So the other big project is kind of revisiting this furoshiki idea. So, talking about how do we store, well thinking about memory and about how we store it. And what would that look like in a physical sense. So, I've started making these paper sculptures, of little miniature furoshikis. Emma passes sculpture to Heather and Kiyoye. So this is handmade paper and these are super light, so I make them, I wrap them. I basically use sand and rice, and then mold the paper around them, and then I'll drain out the sand and the rice.
01:25:05.000
01:25:05.000
EN
You can hold this one, this one's definitely heavy. And if you look at the bottom there's a tiny little cut here, so that's how I empty them. I'm going to dye them as well, so the plan for this is to have a, make a giant installation and make hundreds of these. And they'll all range in colour from kind of black to white, and lots of browns. And then, in conjunction with this sculpture, I'm making a new series of etchings, playing off of this working with text. So, I have these drawings, so far, of furoshikis and kind of these bundled forms. Again, there's lots of information that's left out. So, this is one of my new pieces. This is an unetched plate. So this one's ready to go in the acid. This is this print here, and this has, the text in here is all about my mother's version of my grandmother's story. And so...
HR
No, this is text too? What?
EN
Yea. Heather looks through magnifying glass
HR
It totally is, that's crazy.
HR
I know you can write tiny, but you also can make teeny tiny etchings. Wow.
EN
So, this is all kind of just using a needle, it's just writing really teeny. both laugh.
HR
You must have to...
EN
I have now discovered that I can only do a couple hours a day of this. Otherwise I have to change it up, because my hands start to rebel.
HR
You'll get carpal tunnel syndrome.
EN
Yea, yea. And so, I'm working on this piece right here. And so this one is my aunt's version of my grandmother's story. And so, I've got these ones, and my plan for this, or my hope is, oh here's a test plate. You can just kind of see what it will somewhat look like when it's etched and printed. My plan is to have these in conjunction with my sculpture project, but that each etching will be a different person's narrative.
HR
Ah.
EN
So, kind of reaching out, starting to reach out to other people in the community to see if I can have a transcription of their story. And then I want to give, give a print to whoever donates their story. So that they have it. And that, again the writing is so small that its, it can't really be accessed by anyone. And its this way of, you know, how do you really, how do you wrap it all up? So, it's growing and we'll see where that project takes me. But, yea, so it's kind of this furoshiki project, and the mapping project that seem to be the current, the current things right now.
HR
Definitely, off recording we should talk about both of them, because there's potential ways that as a volunteer they could intersect nicely. I see by the time, and my hungry belly that we may wrap it up for now.
EN
Yea absolutely.
HR
Thank you very much Emma, this has been wonderful.
EN
Thank you!
01:28:40.000

Metadata

Title

Emma Nishimura, interviewed by Heather Read and Kiyoye Marangos, 24 September 2015

Abstract

Emma discusses her knowledge of her grandmother and grandfather’s experiences during the Second World War, and the gaps in family memory that surround their stories. Much of her Japanese Canadian family passed away before she was old enough to ask questions about their history; after finding some of her grandmother’s old sewing patterns in her mother’s house, she was inspired to begin researching their experiences in more detail. The research inspired 8 years worth of her fine art practice, which she also explains.

Credits

Interviewer: Heather Read
Interviewer: Kiyoye Marangos
Interviewee: Emma Nishimura
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Toronto
Keywords: sewing; Slocan ; grandmother; Toronto ; art; memory; 1930s-1940s, 1970s, 1980s-present

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.