Kauai Historical Society shares stories of the past

History may be best explained through art, and this week, Carol Kouchi Yotsuda will share her World War II story through hand-sewn artwork and black-and-white photos.

Kauai Historical Society presents her historical account, “Life Behind the Blackout Curtains,” on Tuesday at the newly dedicated Fine Arts Auditorium on the Kauai Community College campus.

Supplemented by records from the Kauai Historical Society’s collections, Yotsuda will relate her childhood memories in a WWII internment camp located in Rohwer, Arkansas, from 1942 to 1945.

“While Kauai Historical Society has a number of collections from World War II, including issues of The Sentinel, a military paper published on island during the war, and Roy Miyake’s extensive research on Kauai residents who were interned throughout the country, which was the basis for a Kauai Museum exhibit, this will be the first time an internee will speak directly of her experiences,” said Helen Wong Smith, executive director at the Kauai Historical Society.

“It is likely to be her only time sharing these reminiscences with the Kauai community,” Wong Smith added.

During the spring of 1942, Japanese-Americans were forced to relocate and were incarcerated in internment camps in the U.S. Western interior. An estimated 1,200 to 1,800 Japanese nationals and American-born Japanese from Hawaii were interned.

Yotsuda was one Hawaii resident of Japanese ethnicity whose family was forced to move to Rohwer War Relocation Center when she was 2, where they lived until she was 5.

“People like my dad who were community leaders were collected and sent out to various relocation camps on the Mainland, the Japanese interment camps,” said Yotsuda. “A lot of the people in Hawaii were Japanese, because they were one of the most recent immigrant groups that came in. Their lives centered around the Buddhist church, and my dad was one of the Buddhist ministers. He was considered a leader and was shipped off to the Mainland, but we all had to go with him.”

Yotsuda was able to recover some of her father’s photographs taken during the war, but a large amount of the pictures have been lost over the years. Fortunately, she developed an impressive sewing talent that carried over to her artwork.

“I have a pretty good memory, a pictorial memory,” she said. “Over the years I did artwork based on the things I remembered. So basically, I’ll be telling the story through my artwork and my dad’s photos.”

Between the old photographs and her unique stitched art, she will share what it was like living in the camp from a child’s perspective.

“Most of the things are with my machine stitchery, because those are pictorial and tell the story,” Yotsuda said. “My sewn images are like drawings, except they’re drawn with thread. Depending how big they are, some could take five days and some could take five hours.”

Yotsuda is now a retired art teacher who taught for more than 38 years between Kauai High School and Kauai Community College. She gave a talk at a local book club meeting and was encouraged to share her story with a larger audience.

“Many people haven’t been able to talk about this,” Yotsuda said. “This is after 70 years of holding it in. It’s still hard.”

“I’m gonna do it only once, I’m not going to repeat the talk anywhere else,” she added. “I don’t know how much good it will do, but it’s important to share.”

Co-sponsored by the Garden Island Arts Council and KCC History and Philosophy Club, the historical presentation of “Life Behind the Blackout Curtains” takes place Tuesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and a $5 donation is suggested.

Funds generated will support the Kauai Historical Society.

RSVP by emailing info@kauai historicalsociety.org or calling 245-3373.

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