Feb 28, 2012

Jimmy Mirikitani and his drawings

How can one sum up a life in a few words?  Not anyone’s whole existent can fit into a blog post. I am going to try and summarize his life.  Forgive me for trying to do so. I was deeply moved when I watched the documentary about a homeless man named Jimmy Mirikitani.  The life of Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani has been one of trauma and hope.  He was born in Sacramento, California in 1920, a Japanese American, shortly thereafter moved to Hiroshima, Japan and was raised there until he returned to the States in 1938.  Mirikitani wanted to avoid the militarism in Japan and to pursue his art, so he decided to move back to the States. His motto is: “Make art not war”.

Shortly after returning to the states he lived with his sister Kazuko and her family.  Happy times soon ended and they were forced to leave their home and go to internment camps.  Kazuko went to Minidoka camp in Idaho and Jimmy ended up in Tule Lake, California.

The government required internees to take a loyalty test.  Tule Lake became a segregation center and those who were deemed disloyal were congregated.  Thousands of Japanese Americans renounced their citizenship, along with Mirikitani. After World War II ended, Jimmy and hundreds of others were held in the camp without charge, first in Tule Lake and then in a Department of Justice INS camp in Crystal City, Texas.

In 1946, Jimmy was transferred to a frozen food manufacturing plant in New Jersey working 12 hours shifts 6 days a week.  By August of 1947 he was released. His citizenship was restored in 1959 but Mirikitani didn’t know about it until around 2002. The government’s letter never reached him because he moved so often.

It was in the 1980’s when Jimmy Mirikitani ended up homeless. His employer died and he was suddenly without a job or a home. Within a year, he was living in Washington Square park in Greenwich Village, selling his artwork to survive. There he continued until he met Linda Hattendorf.

It wasn't until I was grown did I hear about the camps for the Japanese here in the states.  There were over 18,000 people held at the camp in Tule Lake.  The time that Mirikitani spent there left an indelible mark on his spirit, which took a trip back to mend.  Take a look at the clip from this PBS special below.