3 minute read

Hunters Point

Excerpt: Hunters Point by Peter Kageyama

It was April 16, 1942, on Van Ness Avenue, not far from where he sat now. Kats, several months shy of eighteen, along with his mother, father, two older sisters, and 110,000 others of Japanese ancestry, had been ordered to assemble for “relocation” out of the newly created West Coast Exclusionary Zone. They’d been given two weeks to reduce their lives down to two suitcases each. Houses had to be sold or boarded up, businesses liquidated, family pets given away or put down. In some ways, the Takemotos were lucky. Their home in Japantown was paid for, and Kats’s father had transferred the deed to his American-born son. They made arrangements with the local bank to provide a caretaker to check in regularly. There was money for the taxes, and Kats’s father, Shuzo, had optimistically said, “This will only be for a short time. They’ll see that we’re good Americans.” The rest of the family wasn’t so sure.

Standing on Van Ness in front of a tire store, Kats dumbly looked around, not fully registering what was happening. The older folks, most dressed in their best clothes, looked like they were going to church. The children played and were excited to not be in school. It was like everyone was in denial about what was really going on, and it made Kats want to scream. From behind, he heard the click of a camera shutter. He turned and was surprised to see a middle-aged White woman behind the camera. A hot flush of anger rose in him. My family is herded off like criminals, and this hakujin is taking pictures.9 Their eyes locked for a moment, and just as he was turning away he heard her say, “I’m sorry.”

He turned back and looked at her again. “Sorry about what?” he asked sharply. “Sorry about taking the picture, or sorry about all of this?” he said, waving his arms. “Sorry the whole world has gone to fucking hell?”

She lowered the camera. She was an experienced photojournalist by this time. She’d documented the Great Depression and had seen poverty, desperation, and sadness. But this feels different, she thought. This was Americans turning on other Americans. They may look different and come from other places, but seeing these families, especially these kids, she could only see the injustice of it all. This is us acting out of fear. So, she did something that photojournalists weren’t supposed to do. She talked to her subject. One angry, young Nisei boy.

“I’m sorry about all of it. I’m sorry that America isn’t living up to its own ideals.” She looked around. “This isn’t right.”

Kats felt his anger recede. “Why are you here?”

“I’m working for the War Relocation Authority to document this... process.”

“Trophy photos for politicians?”

“Not the way I’m shooting it. I see the commonality between all of us. I see the humanity and the patriotism on display. That is what I’m seeing in my lens. And hopefully when the powers that be see my images, they’ll see what I see.” Kats nodded.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Katsuhiro Takemoto,” he said. “But everybody calls me Kats.”

“I’m Dorothea. Dorothea Lange.” She extended a hand and stepped forward. Kats noticed that she dragged her right leg and limped when she walked. He stepped forward too and shook her hand. She noticed him staring at her leg. “Polio.” He nodded. They both knew too many people who’d been impacted by that disease.

“Can you help me, Kats? Can you tell me a bit about some of these people so I can better understand them and better tell their stories?”

“I can try.”

“Good. Because I use this...” she held up the camera, “to teach people how to see without a camera.10 And they need to see this.” • A St. Pete resident, Peter Kageyama is the author of For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places, the follow up, Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places and his latest, The Emotional Infrastructure of Places.

Hunters Point by Peter Kageyama Publication Date January 17, 2023 Print ISBN: 978-1-940300-63-4 Ebook ISBN: 978-1-940300-64-1 St. Petersburg Press

AUTHOR’S NOTE: A different version of this moment in time did occur except Dorothea Lange took the picture of my father, Paul Kiyoshi Kageyama. The actual image is above and is available in the National Archive.