The name Art Hansen should be familiar to many Japanese Americans as one of the foremost scholars in the study of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. But beyond his great contribution to our understanding that period, Hansen has been a staunch supporter and contributor to many community endeavors like Japanese American National Museum, the Manzanar Committee, and a long list of community activities. We will never know how deeply he has contributed, and in what ways, but his unstinting generosity, offers of help, and friendship have affected many of our lives.

Perhaps his major contribution is his deep and wide understanding of our community and its history. Although, as he states in the preface of Manzanar Mosaic, he has not “produced a dizzying profusion of exemplary books,” his output has equal value to scholarly studies in that he has based his studies on a vast number of in depth oral interviews collected over many years along with keeping up with the literature and research. And, as he writes, the theme of resistance to oppression is foremost in his enquiries and writings. For this, we should be grateful in that he has looked at our history with nuance, depth and complexity, widening our understanding of what took place.

For a long period, the subject of resistance was ignored and downplayed in the literature, but at this point, it has come to the forefront as a very important part of camp history, perhaps a basic component, and also throws a spotlight on major divisions and conflicts within the Japanese American community.

Though the basic evil was perpetrated by President Franklin Roosevelt and the American government, how events played out was often a product of the history of Japanese America and the fact that the old country immigrants were entering a period of conflict with their citizen children. It’s a dramatic story, I grant, and, to me, these clashes within the confines of a concentration camp reached tragic heights, splitting families, labeling protest as disloyalty, and destroying the life’s work of the immigrant generation.

Given the repressive government policies and the reactions of factions playing out in the camps, the incarceration shook the Japanese American community to its core.

Giving a voice to people who were actually there in Manzanar during the so-called “riot,” which resulted in the death of two young men and the wounding of nine others, the book fleshes out the event in a way that no standard history could ever do, and adds another “dimension” to how we can come to understand what really happened in richer and greater detail. It enlarges what we have come to accept as “history” by adding real individuals to the narrative. As such, this account adds a dimension to what we understand about the past with the elements of human voices.

In Manzanar Mosaic, Hansen includes two essays, one on the Japanese American prewar “Communist” press and the other on the Manzanar “riot.” The rest of the book consists of interviews with Sue Embrey, Togo Tanaka, Karl Yoneda, Elaine Yoneda, and Harry Ueno. These are important names in Japanese American history, and their stories vibrate with memories and their takes on what happened. Stuck in a no-win situation, they, along with the rest of the incarcerated people, were forced to take stands and live with the consequences.

Hansen continues to inform and deepen our understanding of what our Japanese American community endured. For this, I am deeply grateful.

He remains a great guide.   

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