My work entitled “My Minidoka” is dedicated to my grandparents, Johnny and Porky Uno
“My Minidoka” is a personal project and an expression that I have been incubating for several years. It is my take on the Minidoka experience through my eyes and its impact on my own life. It comes from my heart, and it is an ongoing lifelong study of ideas and emotion that continues to evolve and manifest, as I often come to revisit it. It has had a profound effect on who I am as a person.
I am the son of a Sansei (Third Generation Japanese American) mother, and a Hispanic American Father, Grandson of two Nisei (Second Generation Japanese-Americans) who were once incarcerated along with their families during World War II at the American Concentration Camp known as Minidoka. As everyone has a story, this one is mine, and it is an extension of theirs as well.
I photograph what I love, and what draws me in. My Grandparents are no longer living, so it is with immense compassion and sensitivity that I go about photographing our surviving Nisei, because essentially what it is that I am seeing, as well as what I am taking a picture of, are my own Grandparents, and this is what I love.
In camp my Grandmother’s name was Porky Noritake. She went to Hunt High School, and was in a band called the Minidoka Matinee. She sang songs on the radio like “Shina No Yoru” and “Don’t Fence Me In”. Her older brother Yosh was in the 442nds 100th Battalion, and was killed in action in Bruyeres, France during the time and rescue of the Lost “Texas” Battalion.
My Grandfather’s name was Johnny Uno. He was four years older than Porky and graduated from Hunt High School in ’43. He went into the Army, and after training at Camp Shelby, he was assigned to the 442nd. He served in France and Italy. After the war he went to school on the G.I. Bill, and later became a podiatrist.
I was not there at Minidoka during the Second World War, but I have a deep emotional connection to it, as it has greatly affected my life. Like many defining moments in the lives of people, this for me was an impacting awakening of sorrow and tragedy. I first learned of the wrongful injustices and incarceration of a people, my people, when I was 8 years old. It was the 28th of May, 1990 – Memorial Day. This would forever change the course of my life, and this would be the day when I would come to know Minidoka.
My father woke me up in tears repeating my name, “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny…” Soon after, he told me that there had been a car accident. “Grandpa died,” he said, “Auntie Mickey died and Uncle Toshi too,” he continued. I was breathless and in unimagined disbelief. It was awful. In tears I asked, “What about Grandma?” “Grandma is alright,” he said. And although I was experiencing a pain that I had never felt before, I was greatly relieved that I still had my grandmother.
The four of them were on their return journey home to Seattle from a pilgrimage to Minidoka when this fateful tragedy occurred. My father further explained to me the circumstances, significance and purpose of my grandparents’ and their siblings’ journey to this place in Idaho.
I was extremely close to my grandparents, and learning about mortality and impermanence in this traumatic way, I remember thinking that I never wanted to leave my grandmother’s side. During those days I even used to sleep on the floor next to her bed. I found myself extremely curious and inquisitive about these unique lives and the history of my grandparents, and my grandmother was my key to the past.
For years she and I shared in great conversations, and I was full of questions. She spoke of the shame, struggle and trauma of her people that once was, and which now transcends into great pride. Our people lost everything. We have shed our own blood to prove our loyalty and allegiance to the only country that we have ever called home.
Now as I take on this journey with this project, I navigate my way through the past. This work is an homage to my people. It is with immense compassion that I capture these moments, expressions and feelings. My images tend to carry more of a heavier tone and feeling, but in them there is love, and that comes from my heart. This is why I take these pictures. In the words of my Grandmother, “Shoganai, Gaman!”