Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Portrait from a wedding

IT IS FILED UNDER 'STUDENT LIFE, 1940s,' this beautiful little image of a young Japanese couple on their wedding day. The simplicity of their dress and austerity of the chapel speak to its wartime setting. It's signed "Sincerely, Henry & Joan Umeda."

We never thoroughly studied the photo, though, until the other day. More than a wedding portrait, it speaks of a deeply poignant situation. Above the signature, in different ink, is written "Joan Nagao," presumably the bride's maiden name. Beneath that is written what looks like "Margaret." 

But when you really look at it, you see it reads "Manzanar." 

Manzanar: that shameful episode of American history when tens of thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans were imprisoned by the U.S. government after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Uprooted from their everyday lives, many lost everything during their years in the camp.

Yet life went on, including love and marriage. 

A faintly visible inscription in the upper left reads "To the dear Sisters of Mt. Saint Mary's College." From that we might discern that Joan Nagao was a Mount student who wanted to share her happy news with her teachers. 

We haven't been able to find any evidence yet of a Joan Nagao or Joan Umeda graduating from the Mount before or after 1941. But we hope she and her husband, Henry, had a long and happy life together after this photo was taken, and after they were able finally to leave Manzanar. 


  1. I am the grandson of Hank and Joan Umeda. I was playing around on the internet, and I found this picture and your blog. My grandfather passed away two years ago, and my grandmother passed away in 2004. They both lived happy long lives. They had two sons, James, my father, and David. They have four grandchildren, myself, my sister, Tracy, Emi, and Jun. I would be interested if you found any more pictures of them or anything else that you may have.

  2. Mark -- I'm thrilled to see your note and to have that question answered about what happened after Manzanar.

    If you see this, click below on "Link to the College Archives website" to find contact information and my email address. I haven't found any additional information about Joan Nagao, but if I can find out when she was a student with the Sisters of St. Joseph I might be able to track some down.