After the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor, tensions between the USA and Japan were fraught as ever, perpetuating an offensive discourse and perception of the Japanese diaspora living in the USA. In 1942, Executive Order 9066 was legislated in the country, specifically targeting Japanese Americans, German Americans and Italian Americans, authorizing the Secretary of War to treat certain areas across the country as military zones, incarcerating thousands of individuals in concentration camps.
For photographer Jerry Takigawa’s family, this public condemnation engendered a sense of rootlessness and disclusion from the country they had come to call home. “They experienced economic loss of property, the shame and indignation of incarceration, and the task of re-integration into American society after release from the WWII concentration camps,” he explains. This collective shame experienced by Japanese Americans shrouded everyday life for the Takigawa family, especially as their community was forced to collectively accept the political and social injustice over time, even though racism was heightened across the country after the public condemnation.
In order to grapple with the tension between embracing their Japanese heritage and the shame they were forced to feel about it, Takigawa began piecing together the fragments of this existential puzzle, sorting through old family photos, identity cards, war memorabilia and other symbolic ephemera. Bringing the objects together in dynamic, three-dimensional temporary collages, Takigawa photographs the patchworks. Each image focuses on the carefully-placed objects, with blurred photographs as their backdrops. The resulting series, aptly titled Balancing Cultures , is Takigawa’s visualization of his own internal struggle with collective shame. Balancing Cultures “emerges from a forty-year silence, and brings a new voice to a long-suppressed family history.”
And how exactly did Japanese Americans collectively deal with this injustice over time? Takigawa explains, “There is a cultural saying for this: shikita ga nai, which means ‘it cannot be helped.’ But there is another saying: gaman, which means ‘persevere and stay silent.’ And that is what came to define the tolerance of their losses. Through this work, I gained a new appreciation and understanding of our collective shame and resolve to transcend this major affront.” So Takigawa’s family, as well as other members of their community, learned to suppress their experience of racism and American exclusivity against minorities.
While the series is incredibly personal, Takigawa hopes it will encourage discourse on the lasting and pervasive effects of racism in America today. “ Balancing Cultures continues to evolve, prompting conversations about racism, hysteria and economic exploitation in America,” he says. “Race is a social construct – not based in science. This series asks us to consider how race is a tenacious cultural expedience that we sanction, leading us to use labels, judgment and separation.”