Dorothea Lange Photo

Dorothea Lange – 1936

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was an American photojournalist who is most famous for her work in the 1930’s with the federal government project called the Resettlement Administration. As part of this New Deal program, she took the defining photo of the generation, Migrant Mother, which captured the travails of the displaced farmers and rural families as they fled the dust bowl in the central plains to west coast. 

In 1942, she was also working for the US government, documenting the forced relocation of 110,000 Japanese Americans from the west coast to a series of internment camps. On April 16, 1942, she took this image in San Francisco:

April 16, 1942 – Dorothea Lange, National Archives Identifier 536418

The young man in this photo is my father, Paul Kiyoshi Kageyama. He is 15 years old at the time, and I suspect that was the worst day of his life. Along with his two older sisters, Catherine and Francis, and his parents (my grandparents) Yaeko and Shuzo, they were transported to Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, CA  and then on to the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah. 

Like all the other internees, he was given approximately two weeks to prepare for relocation. Families had to sell houses, sell business, leave schools, and decide what to do with family pets. Each person was allowed two suitcases. I cannot image trying to reduce my life down to two suitcases in two weeks. 

In Hunters Point, I use the instance of this image and switch up the characters. In the story, Dorothea Lange takes this picture of Kats instead of my father. That results in them talking and actually begins a long-term friendship. I would like to think that had they spoken, perhaps something similar might have happened between them. 

As part of my research for this book, Lisa and I took a trip to San Francisco in March of 2022. We found the location on Van Ness and took this photo:

March 2022

I was extremely conscious where I was looking as the photo was taken. I am looking back up the hill, and though the businesses, the signs, the cars had changed, what I saw was not all that different from what my father saw some 80 years before. The difference is that he was 15 and at the beginning of his journey. He had no idea what the future held and I am sure he was terrified. He carried those memories with him his entire life and sadly, I knew very little about them. I never saw this photo until years after his passing in 2001. If I had, I’d like to think we would have had some better, deeper conversations about his life because like so many of his generation, he NEVER talked about this stuff. So like many sansei (third generation) and Yonsei (fourth generation) we learn about this from second hand sources. 

Writing this story connected me with my father and my mother in a profound way. I hope that comes through in the story. Kats shares a birthday with my father, his parents are named after my grandparents, the sisters after my aunts. Kat’s last name is a mash up of my father’s two best friends from camp – Masa Taketoshi and Peter Matsumoto. Hence Takemoto. Molly is a fictionalized version of my mother, a red-headed Irishwoman from Ohio, also named Molly. 

Kats and Molly are both my parents and my creative children and though both of my parents have passed, I think they would be very happy, very amused and probably a little embarrassed by it all.