Miné Okubo (Class of 1938)

In 1942, months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Executive Order 9066 was issued, allowing the Secretary of War and military commanders to prescribe military areas. This vested them the power to exclude individuals, specifically 120,000 Japanese Americans and have them sent to internment camps. Over two-thirds of them were U.S. citizens, and many of them were children. None had committed any acts of sabotage throughout the war; they were imprisoned without trial simply because of long-standing racist views towards Asian Americans and a desire to curb their growing economic success. Among those imprisoned were hundreds of Berkeley students, who were forced to withdraw from school and give up their education—sometimes permanently.

 

One such student was Miné Okubo, a renowned Japanese American artist who published an illustrated account of camp life called Citizen 13660. She was born in Riverside, California and attended the University of California, Berkeley as a Master’s of Fine Arts student. She earned a Bertha Taussig Memorial Traveling Fellowship and traveled to Paris to study art in 1938.

 

While she was in Paris, World War II broke out. After much difficulty, Miné managed to return to California. However, after the Pearl Harbor attacks, there was an Executive Order against anybody remotely Japanese. Miné and her brother, the only family she had nearby as her father was relocated to a different internment camp and her mother had already passed away, were ordered to report to the Congregational Church on Channing their home in Berkeley and sent to Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno. Camp authorities attempted to separate the sister and brother and force them to live in bachelor quarters rather than a family unit due to the small size of their family; Okubo fought hard to live with her brother. The two were later sent to Topaz Internment Camp, away from their home in the west coast and inland to Utah. They were imprisoned in the camps from 1942 to 1944.

 

While imprisoned, Miné continued her work as an artist, documenting the harsh camp life through drawings and that she would often share with friends on the outside. In 1946, she published her collection in a book called Citizen 13660. In this book, she showcased the injustices of the camps through her unique drawings which she sent to friends and wry sense of humor. Today, Miné is  remembered as a distinguished artist and a cherished member of the UC Berkeley community.

Distinguished Artist and UC Berkeley alumna

Imprisoned at Topaz while on fellowship from UC Berkeley Art Department

“I'm often asked, why am I not bitter and could this happen again? I'm a realist with a creative mind, interested in people, so my thoughts are constructive. I am not bitter. I hope that things can be learned from this tragic episode, for I believe that it could happen again.”

Find the installation in the Environmental Design Library in Wurster Hall!

Brought to you by CWR4B: Images of History

Spring 2019