Thursday, December 09, 2021

My uncle's sixth birthday: Swedes and Japanese and Kingsburg, California


More on Kingsburg and Swedes and Japanese: Last month I made a trip to Fresno for my mother's brother's 90th birthday. I talked to him a bit about my mom and her Japanese classmates. A bit later someone asked him, do you remember any memorable birthdays from when you were growing up? 

He said, we were on the farm, there were 8 kids, dad (Bertil) was really busy, so birthdays weren't usually a big deal. But for my sixth birthday (in 1937) dad said, you can do anything you want for your birthday. So -- and then he looked at me and said, Ted, you'd be interested in this -- I invited three friends over to the farm. He named the three, all Japanese names. (He still remembers their names, he is still as sharp as a tack.) We fooled around on the farm all day. 
That's his memory of his best birthday as a kid, the day he got to play all day with his three Japanese-American pals.
Imagine: when he's 10, four and a half years later, his three pals are all sent off to be interned, as enemy aliens.
Today, Kingsburg is for the most part remembered as a Swedish town. So you see cute stuff like this downtown. Which, as a Swede, I love, but I am haunted by the ethnic cleansing that produced this singular memory of the town.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

My mom and her Japanese-American classmates in Kingsburg, California



Clay School (1935-36) grades 6-8, Kingsburg, California. My mom, Bertha Swanson, is the blondish one, a sixth grader. From left to right: Tom Matsumura, Kim Yoshida, mom, Shizuko Matsuoko, Dobi (Robert) Yano, Kazuto Yoshida.

Kingsburg, a half hour south of Fresno, was settled mostly by Swedes, but by the twenties and the thirties it was basically a Swedish-Japanese town. Clay School was a bit out town, served grades K-8, and its clientele were mostly kids of farmers (like my grandfather) or farmworkers. (Note that two of the boys here are not wearing shoes.)

The school building was moved recently to the Kingsburg Historical Park, and I visited it a couple weeks ago with my cousin Dave and brother Ray. I have my mother's 1942 high school yearbook, the year she graduated, and I see that, of those pictured here, Kimiko Yoshida, Shizuko Matsuoko and Dobi/Robert Yano graduated with my mom. Shizuko ('Shiz') and Dobi ('Bob') signed her yearbook. Meaning that, after Pearl Harbor, they continued in school with my mom through graduation. That summer, 1942, they were all sent to internment camps.

I'll have more to say in a future post about Bob Yano, but I know he was interned at Gila River, Arizona, and not long after going there signed up to serve in the US Army. 'Shiz' was interned at Poston (Arizona), possibly the Yoshidas as well. I can't find a record for Tom Matsamura, probably because he is listed in the records under his Japanese first name.

After summer 1942, Kingsburg was no longer a Swedish-Japanese town. Very few Japanese returned there after the war. Today it is simply remembered, and commemorated, as a Swedish-American town.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Palestinian peasant's kufiya, 1930 (Frank Scholten)

From Dutch photographer, traveler and religious scholar Frank Scholten's 1930 book of photos,  Palästina – Bibel, Talmud, Koran. Eine vollständige Darstellung aller Textstellen in eigenen künstlerischen Aufnahmen aus Gegenwart und Vergangenheit des Heiligen Landes. Bd. I: DIE EINGANGSPFORTE. JAFFA. Mit 449 Abbildungen in Kupfertiefdruck, Bd. II: JAFFA, DIE SCHÖNE. Mit 371 Abbildungen in Kupfertiefdruck. Stuttgart: Hoffmann, 1930

His archive of photos, from his time in Palestine between 1921 and 1923, is quite remarkable. I particularly like this one, as it shows a kufiya pattern unlike anything I've ever seen before.

For more on Scholten:

Sari Zananiri, "Documenting the Social: Frank Scholten Taxonomising Identity in British Mandate Palestine," in Imaging and Imagining Palestine: Photography, Modernity and the Biblical Lens, 1918–1948. 

and this documentary (also courtesy Zananiri). 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Simon Peres on Palestinians in kufiyas and tarbushes (#kufiyaspotting)

Simon Peres, former Israeli PM, former president of Israel, former Defense Minister of Israel, and oh so respected in US official circles, on what he thought of Palestinians wearing kufiyas and tarbushes, when he landed up in Palestine in 1934. From his 1995 book, Battling for Peace

Saturday, September 04, 2021

New publication: "Sounds of Resistance," in Voices of the Nakba


I have a piece in this new book, about to be released from Pluto Press, edited by Diana Allan. 

The book is already a winner of an English PEN Award 2021.

 And here is a description:

During the 1948 war more than 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were violently expelled from their homes by Zionist militias. The legacy of the Nakba - which translates to ‘disaster’ or ‘catastrophe’ - lays bare the violence of the ongoing Palestinian plight.

Voices of the Nakba collects the stories of first-generation Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, documenting a watershed moment in the history of the modern Middle East through the voices of the people who lived through it.

The interviews, with commentary from leading scholars of Palestine and the Middle East, offer a vivid journey into the history, politics and culture of Palestine, defining Palestinian popular memory on its own terms in all its plurality and complexity.

News: interviewed by Insaniyyat (Society of Palestinian Anthropologists)


Very honored to have been interviewed by Anna Tsykov of Insaniyyat about my work on Palestine, and in particular, my book about the 1936-39 Revolt. Listen here.  

Here's what they say about it: 

Ted Swedenburg is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas. His first book, Memories of Revolt: The 1936-39 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past, is a study of popular memory based on oral interviews with elderly peasants living in Palestinian villages in the Galilee and the West Bank. Since his first book, Dr. Swedenburg’s research has focused on popular music in the Middle East and North Africa. He has also taught at the American University in Cairo from 1992 to 1996. In this episode, Anna Tyshkov spoke with Dr. Swedenburg about his first book, questions and methods of oral history and its relationship to power and the peasant class. They also discuss current politics, and the unified Palestinian resistances surrounding events in May 2021. Dr. Swedenburg shares his personal reflections on the debts of solidarity, and his experience of fieldwork in Palestine.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

kufiyas and Hawaiian shirts: Boogaloo boys (#kufiyaspotting)

 More in the theme of the military or "tough guy" kufiya. Kufiyas show up all the time when far-right, white power militias mobilize. At Charlottesville, Amon Bundy's 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the Oath Keepers and other fascists fighting with 'antifa' in Portland, and so on. This has so much to do with US wars, with veterans from Gulf War 1, Iraq and Afghanistan, who got into kufiyas while abroad -- whether because they were very useful, given the environment, or they just thought they were cool, or they functioned as a kind of "sympathetic magic," a putting on of a garment identified with the enemy that serves to endow one with potency. Kathryn Belew's essential book Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, shows how important, since Vietnam, veterans of US imperialist adventures have been to the growth of the white power social movement. No wonder, then, that we frequently see kufiyas in all the far-right mobilizations of the last few years. (I've documented the phenomenon quite extensively here, but don't have time right now to put in all the links to previous posts -- you could do a search!)

 More photos of white power kufiyas to come!

This photo is from the New York Times, Sunday, January 31.

#kufiyaspotting, Tahrir Square, 10 years ago

 courtesy Rasha Latif