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My Thoughts on an Incredible Book, "Show Me the Way to Go to Home"

April 09, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Distant Mountain = FreedomDistant Mountain = FreedomFrom the Book "Show Me the Way to Go to Home" photo by Sandy Sugawara    Sandy Sugawara and Catiana Garcia-Kilroy’s book “Show Me the Way to Go to Home” is thought provoking, artful, and powerful. Their book is not a “coffee table” photo book although lonely, compelling images are wonderfully sequenced throughout. Rather, the book is a work of art and literature, a masterful, almost lyrical depiction of the incarceration sites of Japanese Americans in America during World War II. Sugawara is the daughter of two incarcerates who viewed their time in the barbed wired camps as something finished, to be forgotten…not to be remembered.

   Silence, terror, and time often collaborate to overshadow the physical and psychological wounds inflicted on Japanese Americans during World War II. “Show Me the Way to Go to Home” is a glimpse into America’s betrayal of its citizens and the grievous loss by those interred and a hint of the opportunities lost to the rest of us because they were interred. Incredible, sensory-rich images fill most of the book. Poems by survivors’ family members, artifacts, and historical notes provide additional emotion to the photo journey.

   Sugawara was aware her parents were incarcerated during the War, but they seldom talked of it, saying those days should be left behind so that the people could move forward. Just before Sugawara’s mother died, she asked Sandy, “Why didn’t someone speak up, why didn’t other Americans stand up for us?” Shortly after her mother died, Sandy and her friend, Catiana went looking for answers. Their journey, the people they met, the pictures they took, the objects they found all weaved together to create the texture of this magnificent book.

   The two photographers spent the next years visiting ten of the incarceration sites, interviewing people, finding images, and stirring up memories of those years. Books like this are difficult. Sandy’s parents were incarcerated not Sandy, it’s really not Sandy and Catiana’s story to tell, they weren’t there…except, they did it. They told the story from their perspective and remained objective by combining today’s images, poems, and descriptions with yesterday’s mementoes, recollections, historical footnotes, and linking incarcerates’ names with current, well-known personalities from each incarceration site.

   The sites were all abandoned, mostly empty and desolate, and all in remote, inhospitable terrain. The photographers’ images capture the physical and emotional essence of the sites. I could feel the hot wind blowing sandy grit into my face and the oven-like heat roasting the soles of my shoes. I could hear my feet crunching through the desert sands and the creaking boards of rotting buildings.

  The book captures a living story, a monument to the incarcerated people and a beacon to all of us who can learn from the incredibly unjust act of having armed men rip our neighbors from their homes to board trains and buses to carry them hundreds of miles from their homes to these camps.  In America. We did not do that to German Americans. Or Italian Americans. 

   The book has many images with some text. Each site’s section has a one-page description before the set of images. At the beginning of the book are two poems by descendants of other survivors. At the end of the book are images of some historical objects, photos, legislative history, and an essay by Dr. Donna Nagata, “Intergenerational Impact of the Japanese American Incarceration.” A binding attachment is a booklet with images of some of Sandy’s father’s wartime collectibles, kept in a box and not seen by Sandy until after her mother’s passing.

   The book is a perfect balance…a peek at what was, a step-by-step walk-through today’s remains of the sites, and a glimpse of what that historic period means to the survivors, their children, and the rest of us.

   The book is a work of art and is available at Radius Books.

Cover, "Show Me the Way to Go to Home" Photo by Catiana Garcia-KilroyCover, "Show Me the Way to Go to Home" Photo by Catiana Garcia-Kilroy


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