Saturday, September 29, 2012

New MDHCA Logos Unveiled

The 33rd Annual Mojave Road Rendezvous was the occasion for the unveiling of two new updated logos for the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association. MDHCA President Steve Mongrain led the execution of this effort and thus ensured that they would be available to the membership in the form of decals in time for the Rendezvous.

Here is the text of Steve's presentation to the gathered audience:

Earlier this year, Dennis recommended that the Board of Directors develop a logo with a motto for the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association, what marketing types would call a “brand,” a picture that depicts who we are and what we are about. Here’s what we came up with.

The one above will be used for more formal needs; letterhead, envelopes, formal letters, items where we wish to express the historical aspects of the Goffs Cultural Center.

The second one here on the left will be used for more informal items; caps, decals, shirts. The creative folks tell me the maroon color has a close resemblance to red/brown associated with the color of the Earth, the beige with the sand of the desert itself.

The Joshua Tree symbolizes the Mojave Desert, what causes us all to be here. It symbolizes the Mojave Road, the East Mojave Heritage Trail, and the numerous historical sites throughout the East Mojave, our “boots on the ground” work.

The rendering of the Schoolhouse symbolizes our major goal, the preservation of the history and culture of the Mojave Desert and surrounding area. It speaks to the Mojave Desert Archives and the 19 collections housed here, the more than 120,000 historical photographs, the 6,000+ volumes, 5,000 maps, more than 700 oral and transcribed interviews, and numerous manuscripts, periodicals, pamphlets, digital databases, etc. And it speaks to the Dennis G. Casebier Library on the north side of the campus that houses much of this data. It further represents the Goffs Cultural Center campus, and all the wonderful historic antiquities on the grounds here.

The Latin phrase, Non Nobis Solum, was requested specifically by Dennis. Some years ago, a group of us were meeting at the Casebier residence across the way here. We were discussing then, as we continue to discuss today, PRESENCE here at the Goffs Cultural Center. You may have read in either the Goffsgram or Mojave Road Report that we are often in need of people to be here, generally at least four or more people all the time as this place is far too important to leave unattended at any time.

Anyway, someone at the meeting mentioned to Dennis that most people don’t have the passion he does regarding the MDHCA, and therefore not to expect lots of volunteers. I will always recall Dennis’ answer. He said that he didn't expect lots of volunteers because he had learned over the years that committed people show up “one person at a time.”

Dennis remarked that “many people have no passion for anything, and therefore why not be part of a movement far greater than just yourself? Why not pitch in and help an organization that records the history of Americans in the Mojave Desert for the benefit of generations to come? Do a little, or do a lot, but jump in. Give back and participate.”

Those were important words, and hence our motto, Non Nobis Solum, which translated means, “NOT FOR OURSELVES ALONE.”

A special note of thanks goes to fellow Board member John Fickewirth and his associate, Jim Earley, for their design assistance.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The girls of Manzanar

One was photographed by Ansel Adams. The other wrote a best-selling memoir. Their stories still resonate.

Entrance to Manzanar Relocation Center in California as photographed by Ansel Adams in 1943. (ANSEL ADAMS, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)


The girls were 7 when Executive Order 9066 uprooted their lives in Los Angeles.

That April, in 1942, both ended up more than 200 miles away from their homes at the same desolate area in the arid Owens Valley, ordered by the U.S. government to live behind barbed wire fences and under the watchful eyes of armed guards in gun towers.

They were two children among 10,000 people, all of Japanese descent and two-thirds of them, like the girls, American citizens by birth.

They never crossed paths – at least not that they know of – at Manzanar War Relocation Center, where families lived in rows of Army barracks divided into blocks and "apartments" measuring 20-by-25 feet.
But, in different ways, each girl came to represent the place where their families were confined for more than two years.

The girl from Block 12, Joyce Nakamura Okazaki, became the face of Manzanar in 1944.

Joyce Okazaki and her sister in 1943 at Manzanar.
She's the schoolgirl with the near-perfect curls in the book "Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans" by famed photographer Ansel Adams, who hoped to suggest, as he says in the introduction, that "the broad concepts of American citizenship, and of liberal, democratic life the world over, must be protected in the prosecution of the war, and sustained in the building of the peace to come."

The girl from Block 16, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, gave a voice to Manzanar with the 1973 publication of one of the most widely read memoirs written by an American author, "Farewell to Manzanar."
Her story has sold more than 1 million copies, and has landed on banned book lists, too.

Both Okazaki and Houston now spend much of their time educating young and old alike about Manzanar.
Their Manzanar discussions are part of a series of OC Public Library programs centering on the theme "Searching for Democracy" that start this weekend and continue into October.


"Farewell to Manzanar" was not intended for any particular age group, but in 2001, Publishers Weekly listed the collaboration between Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her belated novelist husband, James D. Houston, as one of the bestselling children's books of all time.

It became part of school curriculum around the country and standard reading in grade schools to universities all over the world. A TV movie aired in 1976.

"Farewell to Manzanar" broke decades of national silence on what happened to some 120,000 Japanese Americans – men, women and children – detained under presidential order between 1942 and 1945 at 10 camps around the country.

"I was writing it for my family, for myself," Wakatsuki Houston says of her memoir. "We never imagined it would be a book that would live on this long."

She believes the power of "Farewell to Manzanar" lies in the story it tells about a family, and what relocation did to them. Rather than bring the Wakatsukis closer together, life at Manzanar broke the family's bonds.

"It's an honest story," says Wakatsuki Houston, who has traveled the world from her home in Santa Cruz to speak about Manzanar. Her stop in Orange County includes scheduled visits with youth at Orangewood Children's Home and teens from the Brea and La Habra Branch libraries.

She never tires of the subject. She sees the opportunity to engage in discussions with young people about issues such as Manzanar as the true meaning of democracy.

"I hope it enlarges (students') view of community, of California, of country, of ethnic and racial diversity – and see it as a plus.

"It's why America is the great country it is," she adds. "Of course we have failings. But we can still revert to our ideals."


In the photo that Ansel Adems took on a sunny fall day in 1943, Joyce Okazaki is smiling.

Back then, she was Joyce Yuki Nakamura. She looks sweet and innocent, with her head and her smile tilted just so.

She does not look like an enemy.

But she admits to being a cranky 8-year-old with one of the world's greatest photographers.
They were outside and she asked if he could shoot the photo in the shade. No. Could she at least face a different way? No.

She didn't like the blue-and-white striped dress she wore either. Her sister, Louise, 4, got the dress with ruffles and flowers. It was a mismatch for both.

"She was the tomboy type," Okazaki says. "I was the girly-girl."

Her father, who graduated from Berkeley with a degree in architecture, had been allowed to travel to Idaho where he picked potatoes to earn extra money. He had bought and mailed the dresses to his girls.

Her mother, Yaeko Nakamura, is included in the book. A USC grad, Yaeko Nakamura's ethnicity prevented her from being hired as a teacher before the war, but she taught physical education to youth at Manzanar.

Okazaki's image appears on the cover of the 2001 reprint of "Born Free and Equal" and has been seen in a number of exhibits, including at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles, not far from where her grandfather ran a successful dry goods store before relocation, and at the Eastern California Museum in Independence, not far from Manzanar.

Okazaki, who lives in Seal Beach, retired in 2008 after working more than 20 years in libraries and media centers in the Los Alamitos School District.

She volunteers with the Manzanar Committee, the organization behind the successful effort to have Manzanar designated a national historic site. Okazaki answers often-asked questions about how to define the camps.

"My question is always, why was I, a child, put into a concentration camp?" Okazaki says. "I was a citizen. That's against the Constitution."

That's not a discussion she could have had at 7, when relocation meant leaving behind her favorite doll, Buttercup.

But 70 years later, she can't stop talking about what else was left behind.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Arizona Historical Society to preserve Yuma's ‘hidden treasures'


Archivists have uncovered “hidden treasures” in Yuma, and they are eager to preserve and share them with the rest of the world.

These hidden treasures are photographic collections, manuscripts and historical documents that tell Yuma's story. They are currently crammed in the back rooms of the Adobe Annex Museum Shop, next to the Arizona Historical Society Sanguinetti House Museum, 240 S. Madison Ave. Due to lack of space, some items are kept in off-site storage.

Currently, if someone wants access to an old document or photograph, museum curator Carol Brooks will dig through boxes or file cabinets to find the requested record. It's no problem for her; she knows where every piece can be found.

However, the historical records are not easily accessible outside of Yuma and they're not in the Arizona Historical Society system, like other collections around the state.

AHS wants to change that, making Yuma's history as easily accessible to a local resident as to a researcher in, say, Germany. The organization's Libraries and Archives Division announced plans to catalogue, preserve and make digitally available written, photographic and other material concerning Yuma's history.

Ann Woosley, AHS executive director, met with members of the Yuma County Historical Society and other local history buffs to share the plans.

“We've been discussing for a long time what can we possibly do to preserve these historical records,” Woosley said.

Although AHS has never worried about losing historical records, the organization has been concerned about the confined space and access.

“They're so hard to get to because of the limited space, but we've never had the ability to do anything other than keep the collection secure,” she said.

Lack of funding has been the main obstacle to processing the historical records, but grants have recently become available that will make this project possible.

“Funding sources are looking for underserviced areas and Yuma is considered an underserviced area,” said Linda Whitaker, director of the AHS Library and Archives Division and a certified archivist.

Funding sources are especially excited about the historic photographs found in Yuma.

“Your stuff is so unique and you have every weird format imaginable, including the earliest type of photos taken,” such as a collection containing 20 photos from 1839, Whitaker said.

The plan is to temporarily move the historical records to the AHS Museum at Papago Park in Tempe.

“First thing, we need to get them out of the confined space they're in. They cannot work in the Adobe Annex. There's absolutely no room to work,” Woosley said.

The records will be moved “as soon as feasible,” which could be the last week of September, Whitaker noted.

The process will take about 18 to 24 months. Whitaker and her staff, which includes a certified photograph conservationist, will work on the “easy stuff” first, then the “sticky” stuff like photo albums.

“Yuma has hundreds of albums. They're hard to digitize, harder than loose photos. (The photo archivist) won't tear them apart, she'll keep them intact,” Whitaker explained.

Once staff processes a collection, they will return it immediately to Yuma. However, they won't return it to the Adobe Annex. AHS hopes to house the archives and records at the Yuma County Main Library.

“It's so state-of-the-art. It's a such a wonderful library facility,” Woosley said.

Housing the historical documents will allow access to a wider audience. “But that doesn't mean just anybody can pull a historical photograph,” Woosley noted.

Some collections will be open while others will be secured. The library staff will be trained to assist people in their search and AHS will provide someone with historical knowledge, perhaps a curator, during limited hours.

Although housed at the library, AHS will maintain ownership of the collections. If AHS builds or acquires a suitable facility, the archives and records will “come home.”

The project will cost an estimated $150,000, covered through combined grants. The State Library, State Archives and Arizona Memory Project support the project.

“Funders love finding hidden treasures,” Whitaker said. “What we have here is sexy. What makes Yuma sexy? It's underserviced. In the archives world, it's unique, unprocessed, never catalogued. It is relatively unmessed with.”

The “good news” is that the historical collections are mostly “intact,” thanks to Yuma's favorable climate.

The grant hasn't been written as Whitaker is still gathering information, but funding sources are expecting it. “I've tilled the soil,” Whitaker said.

She invited Yumans to add to the pot to conserve as many collections as possible. “I'm not above begging, and so should you,” she said.

Some locals expressed concern that collections might disappear once they leave Yuma, as happened in the case of the Yuma Territorial Prison when the state took it over.

“We want to make sure we get our history back,” Betsy Gottsponer said.

Whitaker assured them that she is “passionate” about returning historical records to their communities.

“You are talking to the returning queen here in Arizona,” Whitaker said. “I am passionate about local history and returning them to local communities.”

Items taken for processing will be inventoried before they leave Yuma so locals know what to expect when they return. She agreed to outline the process and include assurances that all property will be returned in a written document.

In addition, Whitaker explained that researchers and historians will have access to records while they are in Tempe.

County Supervisor Lenore Stuart expressed excitement about the project. “We've waited a long time to get anything done. We've been the stepchild in the state for so long.”

Jim Valenzuela said he was happy the records would be preserved for future generations.

Whitaker invited Yumans to follow the conservation process through staff blogs and videostreaming on the AHS website: She will also be happy to give tours, she said.