A truck leaves San Pedro, Calif., for a detention center. (Clem Albers)

An Exhibit on Japanese Internment Shows How Far We Haven’t Come

Racial policy, hate crimes, immigration, civil rights and national security are all themes that continue to reverberate today.

BY Nora Mabie

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The Alphawood Gallery in Chicago has partnered with the Japanese American Service Committee (JASC) to produce the exhibition, Then They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties. The exhibition includes photographs of the internment camps taken by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and others, video interviews with survivors and their families, and objects such as ID cards, suitcases and camp newsletters.

In These Times spoke with Ryan Masaaki Yokota, legacy center manager for JASC and a member of the exhibit’s curatorial board. Yokota’s great-grandfather was among the 120,000 U.S. citizens and legal residents held in the camps.

Tell us about your connection to the exhibit.

My great-grandfather came to America in 1899. One month after Pearl Harbor, he was picked up by the FBI. As I learned more about my family’s history, it became a responsibility of mine to protect the story of Japanese incarceration.

How is the Japanese-American community responding?

We have heard from people who identify themselves or relatives in photographs or film reels. It was very moving for one specific viewer, who saw an interview with his parents. This film brings these people back to life.

What do you want visitors to take away?

We want to help people who may not have a familial connection realize that those incarcerated were just like their own grandparents, parents or children. We also want people to realize that, in the end, the Constitution and our politicians are only as strong as we make them. The exhibit is meant to be a call to arms—to encourage people to be more involved in their political processes and safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable.

Racial policy, hate crimes, immigration, civil rights and national security are all themes that continue to reverberate today. Now, we have discussions about a border wall, a Muslim ban and a Muslim registry. We owe it to those who were incarcerated to make sure that this never happens to anyone again. 

Then They Came For Me, Alphawood Gallery, Chicago, through November 19.

Nora Mabie is a fall 2017 Rural America In These Times editorial intern.

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