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Internee Tells Her Family’s Internment Story With ‘Topaz Collages’

The stories of more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were detained in concentration camps for three years during World War II are recorded on various platforms.


Narratives are told through documentaries, motion pictures, stage plays, articles and storytelling.


For Jeanie Kashima, the first internee born at the Topaz Relocation Center in central Utah, her memories are captured with a combination of art collages and photos through images of her family.


Kashima, who is a member of the Buddhist Temple of San Diego (BTSD), was inspired to create her collage project after she remembered seeing many photos over the years taken by family members. With such a large collection, she wanted to do something with them.


“My uncles were a part of the armed forces and were allowed to take pictures in the camp,” Kashima said.


Kashima wanted to use the photos to tell the story of her family’s internment at Topaz.

After her mother, Amy, passed away in 2020 at the age of 104, and during isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kashima began to work on the collages.


She created collage camp scenes and incorporated photo reprints of family members. The project took 2½ years to complete.


“Topaz Collages” consists of 12 pieces of artwork and illustrates the story of the Takaki family, who were incarcerated at the Topaz internment camp from 1942-1945. The camp is located 15 miles west of Delta, Utah, in Millard County, and 140 miles south of Salt Lake City.


For many years, Kashima did not realize that children in camp did not have pictures of themselves since families were not allowed to have cameras in their possession. She wanted to share such images of her childhood with others.


“So many (people) who were born in camp do not have photos of themselves as babies,” she said.


Kashima said she had to enlarge many of the pictures because of their size. She then cut out the images and put them in a collage.


“The photos were really quite small (1½-by-2 inches) and I had to enlarge them to the size I wanted,” she said.


Kashima’s intent to complete the project was to show an aspect of the camp through one family’s perspective at Topaz.


“Only in the past few years did I realize that the photos were important,” Kashima said. “I wanted to capture this moment in time with my own family.”


She wanted to honor the Takaki family, especially her mother for raising three children (Jeanie’s sister was born after the family left Topaz).


The Takaki family arrived at Topaz on Sept. 11, 1942. With the hospital and infirmary buildings not completed, Kashima’s mother gave birth to Jeanie on the laundry room floor less than two weeks after the family’s arrival. With no options for bedding, Jeanie was placed in a food crate. A collage illustrates Kashima’s birth.


“I was the first baby born at Topaz,” Kashima recalled. “My father (Thomas) was so grateful to the Japanese doctor, Dr. Eugenia Fujita, who assisted in my delivery. I was named after her.”


One of the more iconic photos taken at Topaz is of a young Jeanie Kashima being held by her mother standing in front of the family’s barrack. Today, the photo is part of the Rosie the Riveter trading cards and is on display at the WWII Home Front National Historical Park Museum in Richmond, California.


Photos of Kashima’s brother, grandfather, and only one of her father, were used in collages. Kashima’s father died in September 1946.


“My father studied landscape architecture at UC Berkeley and because of his background, he was one of the landscape supervisors at Topaz,” she said.


When Kashima completed her first four collages, she contacted the Topaz Museum in Delta, Utah, and was referred to Friends of Topaz in Berkeley, California


Ruth Sasaki, Topaz Stories editor, received Kashima’s project with enthusiasm and validation. Kashima’s essay and collage “Topaz Birth” appears as one of the many contributing stories on the Topaz Stories website.


An opening to preview Kashima’s exhibit was held Jan, 21 at the Vision Museum of Textile Art in San Diego, California. The event was well-attended with support from the BTSD Sangha, Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego and community friends. The Topaz Collages exhibit runs through May 27.


Her exhibit was presented Feb. 19 at an event at the Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond. Kashima gave a slide presentation at the Contra Costa JACL Day of Remembrance, commemorating the day on Feb. 19, 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the relocation and removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.

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Kashima is the daughter-in-law of the late Rev. Tetsuro Kashima, who served BCA temples in Ogden, Utah, Oakland and San Diego. Jeanie’s late husband, Tetsuyo, an ordained Tokudo minister, served as BTSD board president and was instrumental in developing many religious and scholarship programs the temple supports today. He also served on many BCA committees. Her brother-in-law, Tetsuden Kashima, Professor Emeritus and Adjunct Professor of Sociology, has written many articles and authored two books related to Buddhism. The Kashima family was also interned at Topaz.


Kashima has two children, Kenn and Sara, and four grandchildren. Both of her children’s families attend Orange County Buddhist Church and Buddhist Church of Oakland, respectively.


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