Paul Kitagaki Jr. (seated, third from left) with Twin Cities JACL Education Committee members (seated, from left) Les Suzukamo, Janet Carlson (co-chair), Carolyn Nayematsu (co-chair), Sally Sudo and Karen Suzukamo and (standing, from left) Gloria Kumagai, John Matsunaga, Steve Ozone, Yuichiro Onishi, Gordon Nakagawa, Lillian Grothe and Cheryl Hirata-Dulas.
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, the Twin Cities JACL is co-sponsoring an exhibit with the Minnesota Historical Society titled, “Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit: Japanese American WWII Incarceration, Then & Now.”
Historic photographs of Japanese Americans during World War II taken by War Relocation Authority photographers, including Dorothea Lange and Tom Parker, are juxtaposed with contemporary portraits of the same individuals or their descendants taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning Sacramento Bee photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr.
Kitagaki was the keynote speaker at the exhibit’s opening at the Historic Fort Snelling Visitors Center on May 23. During the reception, Kitagaki shared the story of how he came about the idea for this project after learning that his grandfather, father and aunt were photographed by Lange in 1942 while waiting for a bus in Oakland, Calif., to take them to an assembly center following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s issuing of E.O. 9066. He later visited the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and viewed the original photographs, saved in shoebox-sized containers, with only the location and date that the photographs were taken written on the back.
As Kitagaki examined Lange’s photographs, he realized that each had an untold story, and he began a quest in 2005 to search for the identities of the incarcerees photographed by WRA photographers to share how their lives were changed by the incarceration order.
To date, Kitagaki has identified and photographed more than 50 of the original subjects or their direct descendants, as well as documented their life stories.
“This exhibition gives us a connection with real people rather than just an abstract historical event,” said Carolyn Nayematsu, co-chair of the Twin Cities JACL Education Committee. “The photographer spent over a decade creating this exhibit through extensive research, interviews and photography, and it is very moving and informative — a definite must-see for Japanese Americans and all others.”
Funding for the exhibit was provided by the National Park Service, Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee, Contra Costa JACL, Asian Pacific Endowment of the Saint Paul Foundation, Twin Cities JACL (including the Leslie and Karen Suzukamo, Donald S. Maeda and Helen Tsuchiya funds) and the Joseph and Marie Winter Family Fund for Historic Fort Snelling.
The exhibit is on display at the Historic Fort Snelling Visitors Center in St. Paul, Minn., through Oct. 28. It is free and open to the public.
For more information, visit: http://www.historicfortsnelling.org/events-programs/gambatte-legacy-enduring-spirit-japanese-american-wwii-incarceration-then-now or call (612) 726-1171.