(From left) Prof. Franklin Odo leads a panel discussion with Shirley Higuchi, Norman Y. Mineta, David Ono, Alice Takemoto and Paul Takemoto. Photo by Richard Strauss
Smithsonian and JACL Celebrate Day of Remembrance in Washington, D.C., kick-starting the 2017 museum exhibit and the 75th anniversary of E.O. 9066.
By Tiffany Ujiiye, Assistant Editor
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said before Congress, a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was indeed a dark moment in American history, but for 120,000 persons of Japanese descent, it was arguably much more.
At the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., the Japanese American Citizens League and the Smithsonian Institution joined together for its annual Day of Remembrance on Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. The evening commemorated President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, removing families from their homes into relocations camps during World War II — an infamous day in civil rights.
The evening’s program included a screening of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Legacy of Heart Mountain” and gave guests an opportunity to view the Smithsonian’s newly acquired acquisitions. After six months of planning and organization, audience members and guests had a chance to preview artifacts for the 2017 E.O. 9066 exhibit.
Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs David K. Allison felt that “this evening had given [audience members] a new perspective on a story that continues to resonate through American society today.” For the past 15 years, the Smithsonian has offered Day of Remembrance programming.
The exhibition and event was the Smithsonian’s first commemoration of Executive Order 9066’s 75th anniversary. In conjunction with the JACL, the museum is now preparing an exhibit set to premiere in 2017. Artifacts and documents will aim to capture the Japanese American camp experience and share the stories and voices behind the camp walls.
“With the stroke of a pen, this three-page document reshaped the history of Americans of Japanese descent and upset the delicate balance between the rights of the citizen and the power of the state,” historian in the Office of Curatorial Affairs Noriko Sanefuji said about Executive Order 9066. For more than 10 years, Sanefuji has worked at the Smithsonian to preserve and organize programs to educate the public on APA history and culture. Her exhibits include “Sweet and Sour: The Americanization of the Chinese Restaurant,” “Creating Hawai’i,” and “Barriers to Bridges: Asian American Immigration.”
“JACL’s partnership with the Smithsonian is important, as it enables the American story of the Japanese American experience to be shared with a broad national and international audience. The Day of Remembrance program at the Smithsonian drew a capacity audience, many of whom were new to the story,” JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida said. “The program, like many held across the nation, opened the door to educating a new generation about what Americanism means even at a time when the rights of citizens was sorely tested. The prominence of the Smithsonian elevates the message — a message that is key to protecting the rights of future generations.”
Details on the collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and the JACL for the 2017 museum exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of E.O. 9066 is still underway and premature. However, the partnership and further details are expected to finalize within the coming year.
On display was a signed softball discovered at Heart Mountain, belonging to George Hirahara that was donated by his granddaughter, Patti Hirahara.
“It is wonderful that the Smithsonian is adding new camp artifacts to their collection, and to be able to donate my grandfather’s softball from Heart Mountain to the Smithsonian is an honor,” Patti Hirahara said. “George Hirahara came to this country when he was 5 years old from Japan and always felt America was his home. When he got the chance, he became an American citizen in 1954 and would have never imagined that his softball would now be on display at an event at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.”
Hirahara’s grandfather had built a hidden photo darkroom, developing photos and capturing life in Heart Mountain, Wyo.
“The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” co-produced by Jeff MacIntyre and David Ono, used many of Hirahara’s photos and stories. The film illustrates the lives of 10,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned in Powell, Wyo., during WWII.
“I am honored to be able to show our film here at the Smithsonian and to have the opportunity to keep these important stories alive,” Ono told the Pacific Citizen. “Over 70 years later, they are still so relevant and represent not only Heart Mountain but the overall camp experience with unique and personal stories.”
Other artifacts included a hand-carved wooden ashtray in the shape of a cat made by actor Sab Shimono’s father. Shimono is an accomplished stage actor, appearing on Broadway and numerous movies and TV shows. His father was interned at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center and the Granada War Relocation Center.
Guests also had the opportunity to view a baseball uniform worn by Tetsuo Furukawa from the Gila River War Relocation Center. Furukawa was a teenager when he entered the relocation camp, but the first baseman hoped to express his American identity and citizenship through baseball.
Following the film screening, University of Massachusetts Prof. Franklin Odo led a panel discussion on Executive Order 9066, exploring why it had taken so long for internees to share their stories with family and friends. Participants included former Department of Transportation Secretary and former Heart Mountain internee Norman Y. Mineta; “The Legacy of Heart Mountain” co-producer Ono; former Jerome War Authority Center internee Alice Takemoto; “Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk about the War Years” author Paul Takemoto; and Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation chairperson Shirley Higuchi.
In closing, a live spoken-word performance was presented by 2014 National Poetry Slam Champion G. Yamazawa. As a Japanese American born to parents in North Carolina, Yamazawa discovered spoken-word within the hip-hop culture in Durham. His performance reflected on his experiences about life and his heritage, resonating the messages of American identity and his take on youth in today’s cultural landscape. A standing ovation was given to Yamazawa after sharing a verse about his Japanese grandmother’s life story.
This year’s annual Day of Remembrance event was sponsored by the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, the JACL, Japanese American Veterans Assn., Patti Hirahara, Terry K. Takeda and the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. For further information about the Smithsonian Executive Order 9066 75th Anniversary exhibit artifact acquisition, please contact the coordinators at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: In the printed and digital edition of the March 2015 Issue incorrectly identified George Hirahara’s donated item as a softball. The item was a baseball.