Teresa Tauchi’s Tribute: History and Memories Designed to Carry

Many visitors to the Japanese American National Museum Store may initially be drawn to the Gaman tote bag because of its simple and beautiful fruit crate label design and, of course, the bag’s functional purpose. However, what most do not immediately see are the stories and lives carried within. Teresa Tauchi, the artist responsible for designing the tote bag, recently shared a little about herself and the inspiration for her creation.

Tauchi was born in Los Angeles, but spent most of her childhood in Northern California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended UC Berkeley, both as an undergrad where she studied Economics and Japanese, and as a graduate student at the Haas School of Business where she earned her MBA. After graduating from college, she went to work for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in their public relations department—a job that eventually led to other positions and that ultimately resulted in an invaluable experience in the art world. After four years of working at SFMOMA and additional years at Adobe Systems, Tauchi started her own consulting company and continued to pursue work that kept “one foot in the artistic/design world and the other in the more practical business world.” The bottom line—as she puts it—”I’m not a trained artist or designer but I’ve always loved to create.”

About a year ago, Tauchi founded Acorn Ink with two other partners, Mandy Ladin and Traci Brandon, as a side project designing screen-printed t-shirts and accessories. She describes their working relationship in this way: “We are definitely a partnership but also act like a collective, where we each bring our own ideas to the table and pursue them with each other’s support, knowledge and experience.” Through Acorn Ink, she began to create and market t-shirts for children and babies. The designs were Japanese themed, but she wanted to create cute, whimsical designs for her own children to wear that showed their cultural identity without relying on time-worn Japanese icons. Many of her creations have been sold in the San Francisco Bay Area and were the launching point for her next set of designs, which included the Geta Life and Gaman designs which are featured in the Museum Store.

“Gaman” means “endure with dignity,” and Tauchi’s Gaman tote bag is her tribute to the many Japanese Americans who were incarcerated and lost their land during World War II. She explains, “The inspiration for the Gaman design came from the simple beauty of vintage California produce labels, many of which feature the names of Japanese farmers. I wanted to pay homage to both the Nikkei farmers who helped build the agricultural industry in California, as well as the World War II internees who were able to make life grow in the desert.”

Tauchi feels particularly connected to this issue because of her own family history. “The internment experience is in fact a big part of my family history—it is the reason my father immigrated to the US after the war. My great-uncle and great-aunt immigrated from Japan and settled in Los Angeles in the 1910s. They were relocated during the war, first to the Assembly Center at the Santa Anita Racetracks, where their only child, a 4-year-old son, contracted meningitis and died, and later to the internment camp at Gila River in Arizona. After the war, they adopted my great-aunt’s grown nephew from Japan—my father—who moved to L.A. when he was 20 to live with them. He ended up finding a bride in Japan (my mother) and bringing her to the U.S. I mention all of this, because I am technically a Nisei—and understand and speak Japanese—but also grew up with a set of grandparents (whom my great aunt and uncle became) who survived the internment despite unimaginable personal loss. So, the Gaman design is pretty much a tribute to them.”

Because the design of the bag conveys, in a sense, a political statement, Tauchi acknowledges that it might make certain people uncomfortable; however, she responds, “I don’t mind that it makes people uncomfortable—I think art should provoke thought, and I certainly hope that the Gaman bag makes people wonder about the different elements that I put into the artwork.”

After reading about its origins, you will see so much more than a canvas bag the next time that you look at Teresa Tauchi’s creation. Whether browsing through the Museum Store or perusing the Store’s catalog, when you see the Gaman tote bag, you can think about the history and memories that it already carries inside—even before you add your own belongings.

December 2007


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