Station 5


“I will never forget the shocking feeling that human beings were behind this fence like animals… We knew that we had lost something that was very precious; that we were no longer free.”

– Mary Tsukamoto (1943), in reference to Japanese internment 1

Fresh off the heels of the “Roaring 20s,” the 1930s saw the destruction of illusions of prosperity as the economy collapsed and discrimination erupted in the form of deportation, internment, and migrant blockades.

Following World War I, the U.S. became an industrial power. Though greater employment opportunities became available to women and African Americans, women and minorities were paid less and often denied work due to race and gender.

Prohibition, a constitutional ban on the production and sale of alcohol from 1920-1933, made gangsters such as Al Capone rich and powerful. An axe whacks a barrel and sends a river of illegal whiskey flowing while a flapper dances.

While it was the heyday of jazz, a genre that originated from Black culture, discrimination against Black people and other communities of color continued.

 In “Sundown Towns” such as Hawthorne, Culver City, and Burbank in Los Angeles, African Americans faced the threat of white violence after dark. The Dunbar Hotel provided sanctuary for Black travelers and hosted prominent Black musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker. A Black worker drinks from a fountain marked “Colored Only” as a bank topples in the stock market crash of 1929.

With millions suddenly out of work and thousands of wealthy businessmen bankrupted, the Great Depression shattered illusions of prosperity fostered by the efficiency of assembly lines and Hollywood romance fantasies.

A man emerges from a broken film reel exposes the brutal reality of life for the unemployed: breadlines, apples sold for pennies, trash can fires lit for warmth.

Police violently repressed union labor strikes in the 1930s.

The illusions of prosperity also continued colonial dispossession of Native land.
In the 1850s, the U.S. negotiated 18 treaties with 134 tribes in California that would have created reservations.

Never fully understanding the complex organization of Native American communities the U.S. negotiated in bad faith mostly with small bands and villages of Native Americans. The treaties exemplified yet another instance of false promises. Never ratified and buried under an injunction of secrecy, the unsigned treaties left Native Americans in California vulnerable to major land theft.

According to contemporary scholarship, up to 2 million people of Mexican descent, including Mexican Americans with U.S. citizenship, were targeted for mass deportation during the Great Depression; at the time of the painting of the mural, the estimate was 500,000 Many more were scared into self-deporting.

In the mural, the headline of a partially-obscured newspaper reads “Officers Hurl Back Mexican Alien Horde.” A huge white man, his pockets stuffed with cash, pushes Mexicans onto trains.

Attempts by state officials and law enforcement to keep out “undesirables” also extended to Dust Bowl refugees and ‘Okies,’ migrants from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri. The state weaponized vagrancy and other laws against those seeking refuge and jobs. The Los Angeles Police Department participated in a 1936 blockade to keep them from entering the state. In the mural, yellow dust chokes the dust bowl refugees.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, brought the US into World War II and led to the incarceration of over 110,000 people of Japanese descent inside the country.  Manzanar, one of ten long-term relocation centers, held at its peak 10,046 individuals, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. 

Various sites throughout Los Angeles served as processing centers for families, including the Santa Anita Racetrack. Forced to abandon their communities, homes, businesses, and belongings, people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in these U.S. concentration camps underwent a traumatic experience that had lasting effects.

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