The world was in a dark place in 1941. While Americans remained committed to isolationism, much of Europe had fallen to the German Army, and Great Britain was barely hanging on.

Then came President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech.  

On January 6, 1941, FDR addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out the “four essential freedoms” that every person should enjoy: Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. His speech became the basis for the Atlantic Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

Four Freedoms Park

Freedom from Fear, Four Freedoms Park

Credit:

Setsuko Winchester

For Setsuko Winchester, a Japanese-American ceramicist and former NPR journalist, FDR’s “freedom from fear” ideal has a deeply personal and painful connection.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese Americans were rounded up and held in internment camps. Not only were they not afforded the freedom from fear, but they also became the symbol of fear for many Americans.

Winchester explores this dark period in her art. She’s created 120 hand-made ceramic tea bowls, all glazed in varying shades of yellow — one for every thousand Japanese Americans held during the war. She has been traveling the United States photographing her tea bowls at the sites where internees were held. Her project is named “Freedom from Fear.”

When reflecting back on FDR’s “Four Freedoms,” Winchester can’t help but feel excluded.

“I think that [FDR] thought he was going to make America safe for Americans — that Americans deserved to be able to go to bed feeling safe within their homes,” she says.

The bowls

The bowls emerge from the kiln after the second firing.

Credit:

Setsuko Winchester

Winchester says she sees this desire come to life when she visits Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Four Freedoms” painting in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

“When I go visit that painting, I think, ‘He did not mean that for me,’” Winchester says. “‘Freedom from Fear’ meant freedom from me — I’m what people are fearful of. If I was born in a different age, and it was 1942 today, I know that I would be the target of that fear. My family would be told to assemble at some racetrack, and then sent in covered trains to some place in the middle of the desert and left there for four years. They would’ve lost their businesses and their homes, and no one would ever talk about it again.”

Winchester says she’s seeing echoes of the past as immigrants and Muslim Americans are demonized in the 2016 presidential campaigns.

“It feels very, very similar,” she says. “By 1942, most [Japanese Americans] had been born here or had lived here for decades, and still they were considered foreigners. And I know today that I’m still considered a foreigner — Asians are not Americans, and Asians are not part of the American story. They’re almost invisible.”

With her “Freedom from Fear” project, Winchester hopes to bring visibility to this part of American history that has lived in the shadows for so long.

“Part of my project was to visit the camps because I didn’t learn about it growing up,” she says. “I finally decided, when my husband, who’s a writer, became an American citizen in 2011, I had to think about what it meant to be an American, who’s an American, who belongs here, and how long do you have to be here to be considered an American. I realized that I had to find out my history. And my history is not being Japanese. My history is being Japanese American.”

The Takeaway is exploring FDR’s “Four Freedoms” all week long. Click here for more information.

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