Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history

Season 3, Ep. 2: "Topaz Stories: Remembering the Japanese American Incarceration"

June 17, 2021 Brad Westwood, Senior Public Historian, Utah Dept. of Heritage & Arts Season 3 Episode 3
Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history
Season 3, Ep. 2: "Topaz Stories: Remembering the Japanese American Incarceration"
Show Notes

June 2, 2021 (Season 3, Episode 2,  48 minutes).  Click here to read the Utah Dept. of Culture & Community Engagement show notes for this Speak Your Piece episode.

This episode of Speak Your Piece is based on a digital exhibit Topaz Stories: Remembering the Japanese American Incarceration, and includes selected readings of some deeply personal and painful stories written and gathered by both detainees and the children of those incarcerated at the Topaz Internment Camp (Delta, Utah; 1942-1945).

The imprisonment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II is one of our nation's worst violations of civil rights against American citizens. Holding to a racially biased and misconceived notion of "military necessity," over 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent--two-thirds of them American citizens--where removed from their West Coast homes and imprisoned. In contrast only a very small number of first generation German and Italian immigrants, whose country of origins were also at war with the United States, where subjected to incarceration.

 The community of Delta, Utah was selected by War Relocation Administration as one of ten internment camp locations. Initially known as the Central Utah Relocation Center, the Topaz camp was built in the Sevier desert some 16 miles northwest of Delta. A total of 11,212 individuals, most from the San Francisco Bay area, were detained at Topaz from September 11, 1942 to October 31, 1945.

This digital exhibit Topaz Stories began as a physical exhibit, installed in various places in northern Califorina, including in Emeryville, between Berkeley and Oakland. To read about this exhibition click here.  It is anticpated that Topaz Stories will be installed at the Utah State Capitol in early summer 2022 and remain there until the year's end.

The editor for Topaz Stories was Ruth Sasaki, and the exhibit and graphic designer, Jonathan Hirabayashi, today's SYP guests. Both also contributed personal family stories, and both served as readers for the selected stories shared in this episode.

Bios of Guests:

Ruth Sasak
i is a Sansei, born and raised in San Francisco after the World War II. Her short story “The Loom” won the American Japanese National Literary Award, and her collection, The Loom and Other Stories, was published in 1991 by Graywolf Press. Two of her stories were aired on NPR's "Selected Shorts," and a short film was made from her story, "American Fish." Ruth is the editor of the Topaz Stories Project; her mother’s family--including her grandparents, mother, aunt, and uncle--were incarcerated at Utah's Topaz War Relocation Center.

Born in 1946, Jonathan Hirabayashi grew up in the small farming communities of American Fork and Pleasant Grove, Utah. In 1956, his parents returned to the Santa Clara Valley (California). After college graduation and service in the U.S. Army, he returned to school to receive a B.A. in art. After a 5 years as a graphic designer at the Oakland Museum, Jonathan started his own firm designing and fabricating exhibits.