This past week, I’ve been working on a function in Python that merges the two different datasets (WRA and FAR) so as to simplify the process of querying the data.
The reason for merging the data was to find a simpler alternative to the previous function for searching developed by Densho which involved if/else for loops to pull data from each dataset.
Now, one can search the data for a particular person and recover all of the available information about that person in a simple query. After the merge, the data output looks something like this when formulated as a list:
In addition to this, I’ve also played with some basic visualizations using Python to display some of the data in pie charts. I’m hoping to wrap up the last week working on more visualizations and functions for querying data.
In recent weeks, my project has taken an unexpected turn from data storytelling and visualization towards one of data processing. As it turns out, our partner organization (Densho.org) has already done some data cleaning in Open Refine, created a database, and began preliminary data processing. I’ll be using Python and Jupyter Notebook to continue the work they’ve started, first by testing previous processes and then by creating new processes. I also found out that the data doesn’t have unique identifiers so I’ll be using the following workaround for attempting to isolate pockets of data.
In this partial example (there’s more to it than what’s seen in this screenshot), I’ll need to query the data using a for loop that searches for a combination of first name, last name, family number, and year of birth in order to precisely locate data in a way that potentially replicates the use of a unique identifier. I’m finding that not having a unique identifier makes it much more difficult to access data quickly and accurately, but hopefully this for loop will do the trick. I’m looking forward to playing with the code more and seeing what can be discovered.
The Tule Lake exit phone book (FAR) data represents the majority of information available about the many Japanese American citizens who passed through the internment camp system. In most cases, this in conjunction with the limited data from the entry file, represents all of the information that is available. While there is not much here that allows us to paint a complete picture of their lives, we are at least able to conceive of some select moments in time, which I attempt to do in the case of Mrs. Kashi.
Above: FAR exit file
Above: Exit record for Mrs. Mitsuye Kashi
Mrs. Mitsuye Kashi was born on April 24, 1898 in the southern division of Honshu, Japan. Eighteen years later, she would arrive in the US, and later become an American citizen, marry Jutaro Kashi, and have a son, Tomio. Before internment, she and her family lived in Sacramento, California. But in 1942, the family was moved to a local assembly center located on Walerga Road, and soon after, assigned to the Sacramento internment camp. At some point, the family was transferred to the Tule Lake internment camp, where sadly, Mrs. Kashi would spend her last days. On June 4, 1943, less than a year after arriving at Tule Lake, Mrs. Kashi committed suicide. She was 45 years old. We have no record of why she committed suicide, but one can assume that life in the internment camp was unbearable for her.
In September, just three months later, Mrs. Kashi’s son was sent away to Central Utah Project, or the Topaz camp, which was a segregation center for dissidents. There are no records of what happened to Tomio afterwards. Her husband was released on June 28, 1944 and upon final departure from the camp, became a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
This past week has been spent delving into the datasets available to me in order to get a better sense of the lives of internees of the Japanese American interment camps, from entry to exit. What this means is that I’m looking at the entry data, exit data, and incident cards to glean a better understanding of life during this time. Some of the data that helps me in this endeavor are details about the first camp where a person entered the system, the assembly center they were taken to before getting to the camp, the date they first arrived at camp, other camps they may have been transferred to or from, the camp they last stayed at before exiting, their final departure date, the destination after their departure from the camp, birthdate, birthplace, and where they lived before internment (among many other details). The incident cards represent the recordkeeping system that includes details of various “offenses” that took place within the camps, and were typically only written up for people who violated rules in the camp, or in some cases, to keep records of deaths within the camp. Not every internee has incident cards, so there are silences and erasures within these archival records that might never be uncovered. But what one can do is gather up all of these details and possibly try to glean from them a narrative about the life of the internee imprisoned in these camps.
This is what I’m currently working on and I hope to share a little bit about select people in coming weeks. One of the most important things to consider is the sensitivity of these records as not all data can be publicly divulged at this point. NARA, the current steward of the records, has asked that we adhere to the restriction of 75 years when disclosing data. In other words, any records taking place after July 8, 1944 cannot be revealed. This is something I’ll have to keep in mind going forward in terms of how to best present the data in ways that both highlight and privilege the narratives and stories of the people unjustly imprisoned in these camps.
In the past couple of weeks, a flurry of articles have been published about concentration camps and their place in American society and history. My mentor shared them with me and I have found them useful in contextualizing my work with the Japanese American internment cards. I’m reminded of how my LEADS project and the data I’m working with are still relevant today, when concentrations camps can’t be relegated to the past and, in fact, are very much a reincarnated racist reality in the present. Three of the four articles sent to me (listed below) connect the history of Japanese American internment camps with current issues around the migrant detention camps that have been implemented to detain migrant children crossing the border from Mexico, and highlight the fact that this, unfortunately, is history repeating itself. For instance, Ft. Sill, which is now a migrant detention center, was founded in 1869 and was once “a relocation camp for Native Americans, a boarding school for Native children separated from their families, and an internment camp for 700 Japanese American men in 1942” (Hennessy-Fiske, 2019). Its unmitigated and irreconcilable history is a continued legacy of racial difference, segregation, and discrimination. All of the articles reinforce the importance of this project that I (and two other LEADS fellows before me) am working on, but the last piece written by the granddaughter of a survivor of the Japanese American incarcerations is truly the most motivating factor for this work: so that former internees and their family members can know their own histories.
For my LEADS project, I’ll be working with the Digital Curation Innovation Center (DCIC) at the University of Maryland on a project that examines Japanese American internment camp archival records that were collected over a period of four years from 1942 to 1946. I’m really excited to work on this project because of the cultural importance and potential impact it could have on the Japanese American community, which up to this point, has not had access to these records. The records consist of 25,000 cards that include details such as incidents in the camp, births and deaths, entries and exits, as well as transfers between camps.
After talking with my internship mentor, Richard Marciano, I decided to work on data that might help us track the movement of the internees within and among the camps from entry to exit in hopes that it might provide some insight into their lives. Additionally, examining data about the births and deaths in the camps could provide additional context that can aid in telling a more complete story of the Japanese American citizens who were subjected to imprisonment in internment camps. While the entire scope of the project has not been fleshed out completely, the preliminary steps of the research project will include parsing through three data files, looking at the previous projects conducted by MLIS students, reading the grant application which will allow the release of key data to the public, and viewing the “Resistance at Tule Lake” documentary. After these initial steps, I’ll begin to conceptualize what this data project will look like in terms of data processing and visualization.
I’m looking forward to what this project will bring to light in the remaining weeks of the internship!