Ruth Asawa. Japanese American Internment

More than two hundred people gathered for the unveiling and dedication of Ruth Asawa’s Japanese American Internment Memorial, San José, California, March 5, 1994. Ruth Asawa Papers, M1585: Box X, Folder Y. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford Libraries.
Asawa and large crowd gathered awround sculpture wall
More than two hundred people gathered for the unveiling and dedication of Ruth Asawa’s Japanese American Internment Memorial, San José, California, March 5, 1994. Ruth Asawa Papers, M1585: Box X, Folder Y. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford Libraries. Artwork © Estate of Ruth Asawa. Photo by Fay Royal Baxter. Artwork © The Estate of Ruth Asawa/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of The Estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner.

Ruth Asawa was active in arts education and civic arts initiatives throughout her career, making several prominent public art pieces including the Japanese American Internment Memorial (1985–94) in San José. Asawa, with her family, had been interned in 1942 at a camp in Rohwer, Arkansas.1 She designed a narrative monument with figurative imagery to depict the history of the Japanese American community in California before internment—stories of immigration, agriculture, small business, and culture—as well as experiences in the camps.2 On each end of the monument, pictorial scenes are framed by symbolic mon, or family crests that Asawa collected from 177 Japanese American families in San José. Cast in two large bronze panels, it stands as a five-by-fourteen-foot double-sided monument in front of the Federal Building in downtown San José.


  1. Philip E. Linhares, Ruth Asawa: Completing the Circle (Oakland: Oakland Museum of California, 2002). ↩︎

  2. Ruth Asawa, “Preliminary Design Concept,” March 1990, in Ruth Asawa Papers, M1585, Box 122, Folder 3, Special Collections, Stanford Libraries, Stanford, California. ↩︎