.. espect and historical value of the Japanese American experiences. WHAT THE MUSEUM OFFERS The museum offers a plethora of artifacts, photos, quotes, poems, personal testimonies, pieces of art, and records to the public to create a deeper understanding about Japanese American history. In the Historic Building, there is a temporary photo display of The Heart Mountain Story, including over thirty images of Japanese Americans in the relocation camp. The photos were taken by Hansel Mieth and Otto Hagel.
In 1943, they were sent to the Heart Mountain Relocation center in Northwest Wyoming to take pictures for Life magazine. The photos went unpublished and hidden until 1995. This display is a useful supplement to the readings and discussions in class because the visual affects of seeing black and white photos of internees are quite dramatic. To read and talk about the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II is shocking, but to see actual photos of moments frozen in time is overwhelming. The collection includes photos of people leaving their homes to go to camp, mothers struggling with their young children, children in camp schools, and even a photo of Lt. General John DeWitt himself.
Also among the collection were the exclusion order signs that read “April 22, 1942 Instructions to all persons of Japanese ancestry..” and the May 11, 1942 Civilian Exclusion Order No. 63. It is eerie to see then as signs hanging on the walls, rather than documentation in our text reading. The Historic Building also offers a full timeline that follows the events from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. It includes photos and notes that help give a better understanding of the political atmosphere and attitudes of that time. Also, there is nonstop footage of home movies playing that was taken by Japanese Americans in the 1920’s to the 1940’s. The videos are narrated and show slices of Japanese American life, in a brighter light, with their families, at festivals, and playing games. The Pavilion is also full of information and displays that are directly relate to what we learned in class and our readings.
There are many familiar names that we have learned about, such as Gary Okihiro, the Yasui family, Iva Ikuko Toguri, Yuri Kochiyama, Michi Weglyn, and more. There are displays that describe events such as Pearl Harbor, the Japanese American experience in Hawaii, and even the Chinese American Experience. Artifacts on display include actual anti-Japanese propagandas, Basic Personnel Records of Japanese Americans in Ellis Island, New York, and personal belongings of internees, which were donated by their families. Interestingly, there was also a panel that displayed idea of the “model minority,” which we discussed in class. We noted an fascinating quote by Frank Chin who described the words “model minority” as a “white supremacist stereotype..expressed in the form of praise.” Another interesting display was in the Ahmanson Foundation Gallery. In this gallery, there were copies of actual letters written by internees and their families while in the camps.
Included in these were “Miss Breed Letters” (letter that a San Diego teacher exchanged with her interned students). The letters present poignant records and personal information that are effective in helping people understand some of the experiences of internment. Inside the Pavilion, there is even an original barrack from the Heart Mountain Relocation center. It is a real life example of the size of the barracks and one doesn’t have to imagine how little space families had to live in while interned. Not only do the contents of the museum recapture the broad, overall events and experiences of Japanese Americans, but also it gives detailed pieces of individual experiences and life stories as well.
Visiting the museum helped us fill in the any gaps that we had between what we learned in class and what the Japanese experience was really like. It definitely gave us a more complete understanding of what was going on during that era, and finely supplemented the books and discussions that we had in class. We had the chance to speak briefly with Debbie Henderson, who is the archivist at the National Resource Center in the Pavilion. When we asked her what kind of people generally visit the museum, she said that she noticed many tourists from Japan and Hawaii, students in junior high and high school who come for school tours, and generally people of all ages. However, she does not see as many college students as she would like, especially since the National Resource Center provides many research resources on Japanese Americans, such as: books, manuscripts, databases, immigration records, newspapers on microfilm, periodicals, diaries, videos, life histories, and oral histories.
We realized that the Museum has many research materials to offer students, but we were disappointed that only a few college students take their time to visit the Museum and take advantage of what the Museum has to offer. Other organizations and groups that the Japanese American National Museum works with include the Japanese American Resource Center in San Jose, the Japanese American Historical Society of America in San Diego, Japanese American organizations in Chicago and Seattle. These are mostly for the purpose of finding family stories and studying life history. They also work with other museums, such as Skirball and the Watts Art Center to promote the appreciation for cultural diversity. They even work with other ethnic institutions, such as Korean Americans, to create connections with other ethnic communities. The museum caters to the changing role of Japanese Americans in several ways.
For example, they do public programming and work in accord with community events (i.e. Nisei week). Also, they are constantly creating new exhibits, with many of them that appeal to newer generations. For example, the display, Common Ground: The Heart of Community, gives a historical overview of Issei pioneers to the present (sansei, yonsei, gosei). The museum even offers programs that appeal to children, such as story telling on Thursdays, and several activities booklets for children to learn about the Museum and its significance towards the community. In addition, the museum is working on an international research project, Nikkei, which is financially supported by Japan.
This program studies the role and experiences of Japanese in ten other countries. In order to understand the role and experiences of Japanese, a comparative studies and bibliographies by scholars are performed. The Japanese American National Museum plays an active role in educating people about historical events and how the Japanese American population contributed to the development of America today. In accord with the authors and the people that we read about in this class, the museum celebrates the accomplishments and the significance of Japanese Americans. As the museum affects the community, it is also affected by the ever-changing community, such as new generations of Japanese Americans and people with multi-ethnic backgrounds.
Most importantly, the museum does not serve exclusively for those of Japanese ancestry. By working with other ethnic institutions, it attempts to bridge the gap between ethnic differences, thus showing how it is community based, rather than ethnically based. Since it has only been seven years since the museum opened, it is still developing, changing, and improving. It is expanding through both time with the continual studying of sansei, yonsei, gosei, and space, with its globally establishments that are beyond it’s location in Los Angeles and in America. Although it is called the Japanese American National Museum, it is beginning to explore the experiences of Japanese from an international outlook, as seen in its Nikkei research project. In tying together from our class readings and the experience at the Japanese American National Museum, we believe Senator Daniel Inouyes quote sums up our views of the Museum.
The Museum was “conceived, built and largely financed by Americans of Japanese Ancestry. Increasingly, the effort is being joined by other Americans for whom the appeal comes from the similarity to their own stories.. In sum, it is an American institution, built by Americans, while has meaning for all of us.”.