Posts Tagged ‘Mary Matsuda Gruenewald’

Choosing a cover and a type language for Mary Matsuda Gruenewald’s memoir, Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps, was both rewarding and challenging. The challenge grew out of one of the central points Mary addresses–we tend to stereotype other cultural and ethnic groups. You hear it all the time in racial epithets. But it is also present in art. Mary speaks of the cartoons depicting Japanese people as buck-toothed, slant-eyed, yellow-skinned figures at once threatening and comedic.

That stereotyping is particularly common in kitsch–the “Black Mammy” cookie jars, the “Pickaninny” embroidery on dish towels, the Asian faces so distorted as to be almost alien on tea pots. In the past–and in some cases in the present–we ourselves with images that reduce other cultural and ethnic groups to simplistic, often comic, figures. Maybe it’s a way of reducing something complex and unfamiliar to something we can understand; I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist. The result, though, is that much of the art and type available reflects stereotypes, rather than reality.

In choosing the cover art for Looking Like the Enemy, Maureen Michelson at NewSage Press and I faced the challenge of finding and choosing art that would reflect the insights the book offers, rather than the limited vision that made the events in the book possible. Because of the politically and racially charged atmosphere in which the story takes place, we knew that finding appropriatee art produced during the time period under discussion could prove problematic. Anything produced in Japan would not reflect Mary’s American heritage; anything produced in America would not reflect her Japanese heritage. And art that attempted to bridge the gap was very likely to be highly charged racially, politically, and socially.

So the challenge: Find an image and type language that pays homage to the time period and subject matter without descending to the level of kitsch.

The solution was to choose cover and interior accent fonts that evoked both the era and the subject matter: We used Engravers for the book and chapter titles and Skia, a simple, clean font with something of the structural feel of Japanese characters, for the secondary copy on the book cover and the interior running heads.

Choosing the body copy and caption fonts was simpler. Numerous studies indicate that comparatively simple serif fonts are easiest to read, so we chose Palatino, a clean, traditional font that would “disappear” as the reader became engrossed in the story, Palatino Italic for captions, and Frutiger, a simple, clean font that retains readability at comparatively small sizes, for the letter and document insets, an important part of the book.

The solution for the cover art proved to be a photo. In it, a Japanese family being evacuated to an internment camp leans out of a train window. An adult in the background waves the “V for Victory” hand salute. In the foreground, a small Japanese boy holds and American flag.

The image was black and white, though, and black and white covers typically don’t catch the eye. On the other hand, garish colors would have been inappropriate to the subject matter. We compromised by colorizing the image with soft, desaturated tones, and then setting it into a cover that picked up some of the photo colors–the rusty red from the flag, and the forest green from the train car. To create a bit of warmth we used a deep gold for the cover lettering.

While Mary had a number of family, farm, and personal pictures, she did not have many from her years in the camps. In order to find images to illustrate that part of her story we turned to national, state, and university archives. While using the images was free, or virtually so, we did need to provide source information for each image, and acknowledge the usage donation. It was worth it. I was surprised and pleased to discover that some of the photographers documenting the camps–like Ansel Adams–did world-class work. This book is probably the only opportunity I will have to work with photography of that caliber. And that’s one of the “Easter eggs,” the inexpected, hidden benefits–of design. I not only learned about a part of our national heritage, I learned about an incredible source of imagery for future projects.

In the end, designing a book like this offers a designer the opportunity to learn, to grow, to experiment, and to create an experience for readers in which the story, given a face, stands on its own, unimpeded.

For more information, or to order a copy of Looking Like the Enemy, visit NewSage Press online.

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Looking Like the Enemy:
My Story of Imprisonment in a Japanese-American Internment Camp

By Mary Matsuda Gruenewald


My relationship with Looking Like the Enemy began five years ago, when Maureen Michelson at NewSage Press sent me the manuscript. “We’re going to be publishing this book,” she told me. “I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.” This was hardly a bolt from the blue; I had been designing book covers and typesetting interiors for NewSage Press for a few years at the time.

I sat down, opened the paper box holding the manuscript, and began to read. I have never had a stronger initial reaction to a book, particularly one that hasn’t made it all the way through the editing process. Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, age 80, had at long last written about her experience as a Nisei–a second-generation Japanese-American citizen–interned during World War II. The memoir is remarkable on many levels, not least because the subject is one that many Japanese-Americans avoid speaking of to this day.

Gruenewald recounts hearing the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor–in the kitchen of their family strawberry farm on Vashon Island, off the coast of Seattle. She writes movingly of seeing wartime caricatures in magazines, and then looking at her own face in the mirror and wondering, “Is that how they see me?” She writes of her family’s desperate efforts to prove a loyalty that should never have been called into question–US Government studies done at the time demonstrated that there was no “loyalty problem” among the Japanese-American population. Those efforts included burning family heirlooms, and even sending the family’s only son, Yoneichi, to fight for the country that had imprisoned him, and his family. In short, Gruenewald movingly portrays what it felt like to be a high school senior, on the verge of beginning her life, and then to suddenly have that life stripped away and replaced with a prison camp existence.

Reading the memoir was stunning, partly because the Japanese-American internment camps are a largely ignored page in American history. I had heard occasional references to the “camps,” but Looking Like the Enemy took those references and gave them a human face. I cried as I read of the camp women banding together to sew a protective sash for Yoneichi when he decides to enlist. The need for such a sash was more than symbolic; the driving need many Japanese-Americans felt to prove their loyalty meant that their military units often saw the most brutal action, and took the heaviest casualties. The irony is most biting perhaps because Gruenewald leaves it largely unsaid.

When I finished that initial read-through, I knew that this was a book that was more than just a good read–it was going to be important for the questions it raises: questions that were pressing at the time, and have become increasingly so in the years since Looking Like the Enemy first hit bookstore shelves.

How do we decide who the “real Americans” are? How do we deal with immigrants from nations with which we are at war? How do we judge loyalty? Under what circumstances, if ever, is it appropriate to strip American citizens of their rights? Does national security trump personal liberty? Perhaps most significant, is loyalty a one-way street? Can we require loyalty of citizens from whom we have stripped basic rights? Looking Like the Enemy is more than a book about our national past: it raises questions about how we deal with immigrant populations here and now.

Gruenewald’s story is enhanced by a plethora of images from her private collection, from the National Archives, and from various other sources. Some of the images included were taken by Ansel Adams, and donated for public use. The images combined with the story make Looking Like the Enemy an important resource for understanding a little-known facet of American history.

This memoir is used in university, college, and advanced high school classes. In Fall 2010, a Young Reader’s edition of Looking Like the Enemy will be available for readers in grades 5 through 8. It will include many of the images from the adult version.

Mary Matsuda Gruenewald speaks to educational, library, and community groups regularly about her internment during World War II. She also traveled to Japan after the publication of her book and spoke to many different Japanese groups about this difficult chapter in American history.

For further information or to reach Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, email NewSage Press.

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