"Beautiful and haunting to see and experience."
about the project
The Suitcase Project asks yonsei and gosei (fourth and fifth generation) Japanese Canadians and Americans what they would pack if uprooted from their homes in a moment’s notice. 

While these descendants of the internment and incarceration may never have to endure the same forced uprooting as their ancestors, Kayla Isomura’s work examines how they, and those descended from families who experienced other forms of discrimination, remain affected by this history today through a series of photographs, short films and interviews. 

Over the course of nearly three months, more than 80 subjects ranging in age and background shared their stories from cities in British Columbia, Canada and Washington, USA.
June 16, 2018 marked its debut at the Nikkei National Museum in Burnaby, British Columbia.

Self-portrait for The Suitcase Project

"The Suitcase Project personalizes history of Japanese internment." Huffington Post. May 12, 2019
"If only they knew what we know now." Briarpatch Magazine. February 27, 2019 (web). March/April 2019 (print)
"Eighth annual Writing in the Margins winners." Briarpatch Magazine. February 19, 2019
"2018 Writing in the Margins shortlist." Briarpatch Magazine. January 5, 2019
"Looking back at 2018: 10 people who made an impact in the arts in Burnaby." Burnaby Now. December 27, 2018
The Bulletin. September 2018
The Bulletin. August 2018
The International Examiner. July 2018
"A people’s history of this land, through the travel trunks families carried on the move." Star Vancouver. June 29, 2018
"It could happen today. These photos imagine Japanese internment in 2018." CBC. June 28, 2018
"The Suitcase Project immerses portrait subjects in contemporary Japanese Canadian internment predicament." Georgia Straight. June 15, 2018
"Yonseis and goseis pack for unknown journeys." Nikkei Voice. June 13, 2018
"A suitcase and a story." The Source. Volume 19, Issue 01. June 12–26, 2018
"Vancouver actress explores legacy of family’s internment." Vancouver Courier. June 5, 2018
"The Suitcase Project explores Japanese Canadian internment through the eyes of new generations." Burnaby Now. June 5, 2018
"The Suitcase Project by Kayla Isomura." Ricepaper. June 1, 2018
The Bulletin. June 2018
"The Suitcase Project: What would you bring?" Densho Blog. May 16, 2018
The Bulletin. January 2018

I never knew what my grandparents and great grandparents packed with them during the internment and incarceration of Japanese Canadians in 1942. They died before I could hear their own accounts of this history, yet the premise of The Suitcase Project began with my curiosity about this part of their lives. What challenges did they face when assembling their baggage? What were they forced to leave behind?
In early 2018, I took these questions to members of the younger generations of Japanese Canadians and Americans. More than 80 individuals were photographed and interviewed across Greater Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and Western Washington, the majority identifying as yonsei or gosei (fourth or fifth generation).
Each participant was given 24 to 48 hours notice to prepare their belongings, receiving instructions based on original documents distributed to Japanese Canadians and Americans during the Second World War. I wanted to discover how each participant would interpret the document they received. This process quickly turned into a conversation about the family narratives and life experiences of these individuals, and how this history continues to prevail more than 75 years later. 
Listening to each participant share their stories has been a powerful experience. Many of us share similar narratives, but some cast contrasting perspectives on how this history has played a role in their lives. Regardless, our stories are complex and layered, and there is no one way to define those of us who belong to these generations.
I am beyond thankful for these stories and to these individuals for allowing me into their homes and spaces. Organizing and producing this project was exhausting, but the end product has been invaluable.
Since learning of my family’s internment, I have spent the last few years constructing my own identity as a yonsei, and each encounter I have with this history continues to contribute to that. As I open this exhibit and close the chapter of discovery that coincided with its creation, I look forward to carrying these conversations forward into our immediate and broader communities.
To those who have supported and continue to support this work, thank you. 
Kayla Isomura
Photographer, curator
April Alayon | graphic design
Garin Fahlman | music composition
Mark Yuen | videography

Erin Shigaki
Hieu Nguyen (The Lab)
John Endo Greenaway
Kiku Hughes
University of Victoria’s Students of Colour Collective
"I cannot help but think of my obaachan who lived this life. Thank you for your work."
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