Preservation Magazine, Spring 2016

Back Story: A Different Tune with Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda

Mike Shindoa

photo by: Monica Hellström/Anna Goodson Management

Mike Shinoda’s alternative-rock band Linkin Park made its debut in 1996, and the Los Angeles-based musician, record producer, and artist has been an influential figure in the music industry ever since. In 2005 he released a solo hip-hop album, The Rising Tied, under the name Fort Minor. One of the songs he wrote for that album, “Kenji,” deals with the forced relocation of his father and other family members to an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Preservation spoke with the Grammy Award–winning artist about his family’s past and how it continues to shape his work today.

Can you tell me a little bit about your family’s experience in an internment camp in Arizona?

My dad was the second youngest out of 13 [kids]. They packed dozens of people in our family into one little barrack room. The barracks were quickly and loosely thrown together, and when you woke up in the morning you had to wipe dust off of everything. These are the stories that I grew up hearing. [My family] made it sound relatively benign and they played a lot of things down, but if you dug into any kind of detail with them, you could tell it was really an awful experience.

What inspired you to write “Kenji”?

I would say that my experiences as a mixed-race kid growing up in Los Angeles inform anything I do creatively. I wrote “Kenji” as kind of a generalized version of my family’s experience during World War II. I’ve never heard a song, much less a hip-hop song, before or since about the subject. It was something I wanted to do, and I thought it would be fun and interesting to take on.

Have you ever visited any of the Japanese internment camp sites?

I visited Manzanar National Historic Site more than five years ago. I’ve seen other representations of camps at the Japanese American National Museum in L.A., where they’ve rebuilt barracks. But my dad and our family were interned in Poston, Arizona, and I never saw that. Most of the camp’s not there anymore, and they don’t have any artifacts.

Why do you think it’s important that these places are preserved?

In the case of internment camps, a lot of people in the United States don’t know that it even happened. In the 1940s, [the government] basically drew a line around a certain area of the West Coast, and if you were west of that line, you went to prison camp. [Japanese-American citizens] hadn’t done anything wrong, and in fact the U.S. government apologized and paid reparations for that [in 1988]. All of the Japanese-Americans who were in that situation, including my dad, got a public apology and a letter of apology from the president. It’s something that we should remember because we don’t want to make those same mistakes again.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

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