Internment Exhibit Is A Stunner
"Executive Order 9066: 50 Years Before and 50 Years After," on view through Aug. 30 at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, 407 7th Ave. S. 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. --------------------------------------------------------------- Some of the horrors of war heal with time. Bombed buildings are rebuilt; ruined cities revive.
Shattered lives never heal entirely. Some mass memories, such as the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, cannot be buried.
I thought I pretty much knew about that internment, but seeing the Wing Luke Museum's new show was a shock. After being forced from their homes and businesses, and enduring the rattlesnakes and floods and harsh weather and the thousand indignities of Camp Minidoka for three years, 7,050 Japanese Americans from the Seattle area came back to racist graffiti, desecrated cemeteries, and death threats.
It was racism at its worst, abetted by buck-toothed simian caricatures and media diatribes.
Akiko Kusunose, chief editor of the Japanese newspaper The North American Post, stood fighting tears at the Wing Luke, in front of photographs of those hard years. Cameras and radios were forbidden in the camps, yet a few people managed to keep them, holding the film to be printed after the war.
Not one Japanese American was ever accused of any crime or espionage during the war years. Yet 50 years ago this month,
Executive Order 9066 sent all of them to desolate concentration camps. The Wing Luke show mounted in remembrance is the most ambitious in the museum's history, and the most touching.
Bringing it together was a community-wide effort for Seattle's Japanese Americans. More than 1,000 photographs were pulled from family albums. Furniture and carvings made from sagebrush and gnarly greasewood at Minidoka were unearthed from attics to furnish a replica of a room in the barracks, built with all-too-chilling accuracy by Bob Shimabukuro.
From all of the offerings, 175 photos and 75 artifacts were chosen for the show.
Museum director Ron Chew says it helped bring a healing to families who had never discussed those sad years openly. One community member likened the experience to rape, saying: "You're the victim of it but you feel degraded by it, and you feel ashamed." The pictures brought out a flood of memories.
David Takami's catalog for the show is a model of clarity and concise history that is destined to be a keepsake in many families. The illustrations, particularly those from before and during the war years, are treasures.
"Executive Order 9066: 50 Years Before and 50 Years After" will be up for six months. Plans are in the making for the exhibit to tour other cities after it closes here Aug. 30.
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