This online craft show, organized by JANM’s volunteers to support the Japanese American National Museum, returns on November 1 through November 15, 2021. The Vendor applications will be available beginning July 1 to August 13.
Applications will be accepted from local and regional artisans of handcrafted goods and food items. There are limited spaces available, so apply early to join our community of craft-makers. Your participation helps to support the Museum’s many cultural and educational programs!
This summer, Getty Marrow undergraduate interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles collaborated to create a collections-based project tasked with answering the question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions suggested that the answer to this specific question would not fully encapsulate the American experience of immigrants and their descendants. As a result, each intern approached this question from a different perspective and highlighted an artifact that touched upon different facets of the American experience and identity. In this post, Shelby Ottengheime and Jose Quirarte explore the complexity of “American identity” through ways that Japanese Americans preserved traditional Japanese values and institutions during World War II.
More specifically, Shelby and Jose selected items that demonstrate the ways in which Japanese Americans persevered while they were incarcerated during World War II by channeling the spirit of gaman—“persevering with dignity and fortitude.” Shelby highlighted a variety of craft items from JANM’s Eaton Collection and argued that the items reveal that gaman is integral to the Japanese American experience and that it manifested itself through various facets of their American experience. Jose highlighted a butsudan (Buddhist altar) made in the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming between 1942-1945, and argued that it symbolized that Japanese immigrants and their children preserved their cultural values despite American oppression.
Assortment of Pendants and Rings
Contributed by: Shelby Ottengheime, Japanese American National Museum
When reflecting on Japanese American history, a single word encapsulates generations of experiences, and that word is “gaman.” Though a seemingly simple expression, to the Japanese American community, it is a defining aspect. Gaman is translated as “to persevere with dignity and fortitude.” This cultural value is not only what enabled the Japanese American community to persevere through their injustices, but it has come to define what it means to be an American for them as well. In fact, it is so integral to Japanese American life that it even manifests itself in their actions, mottos, and art.
The Japanese American way of life has been historically characterized by hardship and adversity. As immigrants and laborers in the early 20th century, the Japanese came to the US in pursuit of the infamous American dream. However, discriminatory laws and social prejudice made it difficult for Issei’s (first generations Japanese Americans) to establish a home. Regardless of such hardships, like the fact that Issei were not legally allowed to own land, they persevered and built what they could with what they had.
The struggles that affected Japanese immigrants and subsequent generations are uniquely different from those experienced by any other immigrant community in US history and have ultimately shaped the Japanese American experience. This is referring to Executive Order 9066, which forcibly incarcerated all individuals living on the West Coast who were as little as 1/16th Japanese. Despite having done nothing wrong—there was “not a single documented act of espionage, sabotage, or treasonable activity by any American of Japanese descent”—over 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans were forced into concentration camps (Stone 1096). Fueled exclusively by prejudiced fear, E.O. 9066 was reasoned to protect Americans, however, those who were interned were US Citizens, and were effectively denied their rights simply because they were of Japanese ancestry.
With only a week’s notice, these Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and sent to desolate, barren concentration camps. Scared to be even more vilified and viewed as Japanese sympathizers, Japanese Americans complied with the US government and went to camp. Though they did not protest, that does not mean they went willingly, instead, they chose to gaman and persevere through the injustices that faced them. Each incarceree was allowed to bring a minimal amount of belongings, but they had no idea where they would be going or for how long they would be gone. As a result, Japanese Americans abandoned most of their possessions or left them in the care of neighbors. When they arrived at the concentration camps they were confronted with barbed wire, armed guards, a barren climate, poorly built living facilities, and an astounding lack of privacy. Even the food resembled nothing of home, offering no comfort to the incarcerees. However, one of the ways in which Japanese Americans were able to cope with their degrading and humiliating situation, was to create art. This artwork embodied their strength and their ability to persevere in an existence where they no longer had autonomy.
These visual representations of gaman reflect the indomitable resilience of Japanese Americans, and a large variety of the artwork was collected by Allen H. Eaton during World War II. Some of the pieces within the collection were mentioned in his book Beauty Behind Barbed Wire, which highlighted the art production by Japanese Americans while also pointing out that their constitutional rights were violated through their forced removal from the West Coast. However, years after Eaton died, in April of 2015, a family friend of Eaton’s tried to sell the collection at auction. This caused serious outrage across the Japanese American community, and through activism efforts, the insensitive sale of the “Eaton Collection” was stopped and alternatively transferred to the Japanese American National Museum.
The pieces within the Eaton Collection were not created by professional artists. The artwork produced by untrained incarcerees reflected the life and sentiments of the average Japanese American. It also showcased their artistic ingenuity and how “gaman” expressed itself within their art. Though art supplies were limited, Japanese Americans made do. They utilized their surroundings, finding colorful stones to set into rings and jewelry; onion strings to weave into patterns on cigarette cases; and excess wood from the hastily built barracks, which were shaped into complex carvings, depicting beautiful sakura trees with handsome cranes. These works not only helped the Japanese endure through their incarceration experience, but the artwork themselves directly mirror the Japanese American way of life and can be seen as a metaphor for the Japanese themselves. Both the Japanese and the wood plank were dismissed and seen as having no worth. However, with gaman, an object that has been discarded can transform and be seen as something beautiful and of value to society. This very aspect has come to define the Japanese American experience.
Not only was gaman apparent in their artwork, but that resilience continued to shape all aspects of Japanese American life and define what it meant for them to be an American. During World War II, many of the young men in camp enlisted in the US Army, choosing to fight overseas while their family members were still incarcerated. Their hope was to prove their “Americanness” and loyalty by fighting for their country: the United States of America. These Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) were assigned to the 442nd Infantry Regiment, an almost entirely Japanese American battalion. Their motto “Go for Broke” was an extension of the Japanese gaman-mentality. The unit’s fortitude and success reflected this value of perseverance, and against all odds, the 442nd became the most decorated combat unit in the history of the US military. The cultural value of perseverance and honorable endurance has defined the Japanese American life since their initial immigration to the US. Facing hardship, prejudice, and blatant governmental acts of racism, Japanese Americans have continually used gaman to persevere. Gaman has become so instilled in the Japanese American identity that it expresses itself in multiple aspects of their culture; in their art, their mottos, and it even continues to mold their lives and values today. Ultimately, gaman has come to define the Japanese American experience and shaped what it means for them to be an American.
Contributed by: Jose Quirarte, Japanese American National Museum
The butsudan is a Buddhist altar often found in temples and homes. Shinzaburo & Gentaro Nishiura handrafted this particular butsudan during World War II at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming. It is composed of the gokuden (“Palace Hall”), shumiden (“Sumeru Throne”), and the naijin, or inner area. The gokuden is the large wooden cabinet that houses the gohonzon, or “principle object of reverence,” and includes the two wooden doors that fold center outward and back. The shumiden is the large wooden pedestal that the gokuden sits on, and the naijin includes three altars: the center altar which houses the gohonzon, and the altars on the left and right which house scrolls depicting significant Buddhist figures.
Shinzaburo & Gentaro Nishiura were two carpenters from San Jose, California who were imprisoned at the Heart Mountain concentration camp. Before the war, the Nishiura brothers were responsible for constructing many buildings for the Japanese American community in San Jose, and the greater Santa Clara area. The Nishiura brothers continued their contributions to the Japanese American community in camp by working in the Heart Mountain cabinet shop. In 1943, with the blessing of Reverend Chikaro Aso, the Nishiura brothers installed their handcrafted butsudan in the Block-8 Buddhist Church of Heart Mountain. Through the efforts of Reverend Aso, the butsudan found its way to the Gilroy Buddhist Church in Gilroy, CA, and was eventually donated to JANM by the Gilroy Buddhist Community Hall in 2001.
The creation and use of this butsudan in one of America’s concentration camps is a prime example symbol of the perseverance of the Japanese American spirit during their years of incarceration. On one hand, The practice of Buddhism provided a sense of normalcy for some Japanese Americans through the chaos surrounding their removal and incarceration. On the other, the creation of this butsudan in camp signified the importance of Japanese values and the way Japanese Americans preserved them. Due to Japanese Americans only being allowed to bring to camp what they could carry, many of them only brought the necessities. In order to continue to practice their faith, the Nishiura brothers showed their ingenuity by creating their own religious items out of the materials they had at their disposal. As a result, the artistry from within the barbed wire fences of camp are a symbol in and of themselves of Japanese American resilience during World War II.
These examples demonstrate that the craft items made in camp are themselves symbolic of the American experience, and the resilience and resistance of immigrants against systematic discrimination and oppression. As Shelby mentioned, most of the crafts made in camp were not made by professional artists. The craft items that Shelby highlighted in the Eaton Collection, were mostly made of material that the prisoners could find and turn either into a useful tool or art. Not only are the crafts representative of the Japanese value of gaman, but the creation of crafts, tools, and religious items in an environment of immense discrimination and oppression reveals a symbolic theme of the American immigrant experience: that immigrants often have to survive the harsh conditions of America by using whatever is at their disposal.
The fact that this butsudan was made in one of America’s concentration camps demonstrated that Japanese Americans held onto traditional institutions and values, and were intent on preserving them. The elegant looking materials that were used to craft the butsudan made it clear that the butsudan was a significant religious relic. Furthermore, in contrast to the crafts in the Eaton Collection, the butsudan was crafted by highly trained professionals who had a history of preserving Japanese institutions and contributing to the Japanese community in Santa Clara County. The butsudan itself speaks to the larger American immigrant experience as immigrant populations attempted to integrate their own culture into their lives in America. Rather than assimilating or converting to Christianity, practicing Buddhists, within the walls of a concentration camp that “otherized” them and implied they were dangerous, maintained their religious values and actively crafted a traditional altar.
The fact that Japanese Americans were able to preserve their traditions and institutions despite being imprisoned in America’s concentration camps reveals the complexity of the “American identity.” Shelby’s application of how the Japanese value of gaman was reflected in Japanese American craftsmanship made in camp, and Jose’s example of the butsudan demonstrate that Japanese values and cultural touchstones were essential to the identity of Japanese American prisoners. As a result, Japanese American identity was a blend of both their traditional culture and the values of American society. Japanese Americans did not totally assimilate or abandon their culture in America’s “melting pot.” Instead, they preserved their values and institutions in a new amalgamated and complex “American identity.”
As this challenging year draws to a close, I would like to thank JANM’s members and supporters for their generous donations to JANM through the pandemic. Your loyalty and encouragement have been critical to JANM’s sustainability in these turbulent times. Looking forward to 2021, JANM will continue to provide quality educational content, public programs, and compelling exhibitions while investing in a solid financial future. With this in mind, we invite you to continue to support JANM with a year end gift. Here are some ways to make a charitable gift:
Now is a great time to show your support through stock gifts. Donations of publicly traded securities bypass tax on capital gains at fair market value. Please consult with your tax advisor to determine the amount of any deduction you may be able to claim.
A Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) is a charitable giving program that allows you to combine the most favorable tax benefits with the flexibility to support your favorite causes. If you have a Donor-Advised Fund, please consider supporting JANM.
IRA Charitable Gifts
Starting at age 70 ½, you can direct a qualified distribution to JANM to satisfy your required minimum distribution (RMD) from your IRA, and it won’t be counted as a taxable distribution. Making a charitable gift at JANM is a tax-smart choice!
You can also show your support by becoming a JANM member, or sharing the gift of knowledge with a friend or loved one with a gift membership. Members receive special access and perks, including a 10% discount in the JANM Store.
For a gift in perpetuity, you can honor your family with a donor wall engraving. Permanent engravings begin at the $5,000 level, and are a wonderful way of making your family a part of our work. To learn more about available opportunities, click here.
Or, you can give a general donation. A gift in any amount ensures we can continue our tradition of excellence in exhibitions, public programs, educational programs, and other projects. Every dollar helps, and donations can be made online at any time.
Each person’s tax situation is unique, so we encourage you to consult with your tax/legal advisors to find out the best donation option for you. For more information, please contact Alyctra Matsushita, Membership and Individual Giving Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 213.830.5657. Donate before December 31, 2020 to ensure your donation is counted in the 2020 tax year.
Thank you for your continued support of our mission. We look forward to sharing JANM’s many exciting endeavors with you in the new year!
This summer, Getty Marrow undergraduate interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles collaborated to create a collections-based project tasked with answering the question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions suggested that the answer to this specific question would not fully encapsulate the American experience of immigrants and their descendants. As a result, each intern approached this question from a different perspective and highlighted an artifact that touched upon different facets of the American experience and identity. In this post, Mercedes Solaberrieta and Jose Quirarte explore the historic vulnerability of American immigrants to systematic and de facto discrimination in the United States by highlighting the experiences of two immigrants during World War II.
Interns Mercedes Solaberrieta of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles and Jose Quirarte of JANM selected items that highlight the complexity of the American immigrant experience by demonstrating the vulnerability and discrimination that many immigrants to the United States have faced due to their ethnicity or country of origin. Mercedes selected a 1940s parole document of an Italian immigrant named Filippo Fordellone and Jose highlighted a 1942 diary entry of Gihachi Yamashita, a Japanese immigrant.
Due to America’s involvement in World War II fighting against the Axis Powers, which included Japan and Italy, both of these immigrant men were considered enemy aliens and stripped of their civil liberties because of war hysteria and racial prejudice. Both Yamashita and Fordellone were unjustly arrested by the FBI after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and imprisoned at Fort Missoula, Montana without due process. Additionally, Fordellone and Yamashita were impacted by Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent strict curfews and travel restrictions placed upon individuals of Japanese and Italian descent. Fordellone and Yamashita were both vulnerable as immigrants, recognized as enemy aliens due to their country of origin, unjustly arrested, and imprisoned far from their homes. Although the experiences of Fordellone and Yamashita are unique to context of WWII, their stories still demonstrate the greater historic relationship between vulnerability and discrimination that has largely characterized the American experience for immigrant populations.
Filippo Fordellone’s Parole Document
Contributed by: Mercedes Solaberrieta, Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
Fordellone was among the Italian Americans interned during World War II. Today the words “Italian” and “Italian American” are often associated with one of the nation’s favorite cuisines, high fashion, and family-centered cultures. This was not always the case. The United States has had a long history of anti-Italianism, including discriminatory laws, and hostility directed at Italian Americans reached another peak during World War II.
Born in Italy in 1890, Filippo Fordellone immigrated to the United States in 1926. He became a prominent radio broadcaster and was well known in the Italian American community. When Italy joined the Axis powers and the United States involvement in World War II became increasingly imminent, the U.S. government began compiling a list of Italians (as well as Germans and Japanese) living in the United States and its territories that it considered threats to American security. Following the nation’s entry into World War II, the U.S. government declared 600,000 Italian residents of the United States who had not yet become American citizens “enemy aliens.” President Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527, which authorized the United States to detain potentially dangerous “enemy aliens.” He also signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of persons from specified areas in the interest of national security.
In the case of the so-called Italian enemy aliens, many had lived in the United States for years and had children and grandchildren serving in the U.S. military. They were elderly and had been unable to pass the citizenship exam because of their limited literacy. Enemy aliens were required to register with the U.S. government and carry identification cards. They were subject to curfews and travel restrictions, and many were forced to evacuate their homes and surrender property. Some Italian “enemy aliens” were arrested and sent to internment camps. In the end, thousands of German nationals would also be interned and over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, many of whom were U.S. citizens, were forcibly relocated and incarcerated.
Although Fordellone had committed no crime, he was deemed a threat because as a prominent journalist, he was capable of influencing others. This was the case with many of the Italian Americans interned or threatened with internment, including baseball great Joe DiMaggio’s father. The FBI arrested Fordellone shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and transported him to an internment camp in Fort Missoula, Montana, where he remained for 14 months. Most arrestees were never informed of the charges against them or allowed legal counsel. While Fordellone was imprisoned, his wife Alessandra was left alone to care for their three children without any financial support, as the couple’s assets were frozen. For most of her husband’s confinement she had no idea as to where he was being held.
Fordellone’s parole document, which was executed in May of 1943, dictated the terms of his conditional release. Notice that it does not contain any mention of a conviction for any crime. Fordellone’s only crime was being Italian.
Although the civil liberty violations Italian Americans experienced during World War II were not as severe or widespread as the trauma and injustices inflicted on the Japanese and Japanese American community, the experience nonetheless left the Italian American community scarred. Many stopped speaking the Italian language and distanced themselves from their culture and heritage in an effort to appear more “American.”
Fordellone’s experience reflects the process through which Italian Americans gained acceptance in the United States. Italians were often seen as despised immigrants and “others” whose loyalty was subsequently called into question during World War II before eventually achieving acceptance as white ethnics. Today, Italian Americans are mostly considered to be “white,” but the process was not straightforward.
January 22, 1942, Diary Entry Written by Gihachi Yamashita
Contributed by: Jose Quirarte, Japanese American National Museum
Gihachi Yamashita documented his experience the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks in his personal diary, writing: “this is a day I will never be able to forget.” On December 8, 1941, at around 1:30 a.m., Yamashita was “shaken awake” and arrested by FBI agents. Yamashita was one of the many Japanese Americans who was targeted and arrested immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor due to a faulty presumption that the Japanese living on the West Coast of the U.S. were dangerous. Many of those who were arrested were already being monitored before the war because of the U.S. government’s false belief that they were potentially dangerous due to their connections to Japanese institutions. Most of the Japanese Americans who were unjustly arrested after the Pearl Harbor attacks were well-respected or important contributing members of their communities.
Following his arrest, Yamashita was imprisoned and moved around to a variety of concentration camps operated by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Meanwhile, his wife and two daughters were forced to sell their property and move to the Santa Anita temporary detention center due to Executive Order 9066, which forced the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast into concentration camps. Yamashita’s wife and two daughters stayed at Santa Anita until being transferred to the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas. Yamashita’s diary entry tells the harrowing story of his arrest and removal to Fort Missoula, a Department of Justice internment camp in Missoula, Montana, but it also revealed how being excluded from the definition of “an American” led to losing his right to due process, and more generally, his “unalienable rights.”
Yamashita wrote about his experience of being arrested and taken in for questioning by the FBI in his personal diary. He noted that while he was imprisoned, his wife and daughter visited him twice and a guard watched over their conversation (which had to be in English). Yamashita detailed the entirety of his forced removal and wrote that on December 8th he was initially detained at Lincoln Heights Jail for four days, from December 12th to the 22nd he was imprisoned at a county jail, and on the afternoon of the 22nd was held at the Tuna Canyon Camp in Los Angeles for two days before he arrived at Fort Missoula on December 28th. Yamashita concluded his entry by writing about the brutal living conditions of the camp, noting that he and the other Japanese prisoners weren’t given an opportunity to prepare for the Montana winter and were forced to endure the freezing temperatures of Missoula without any winter gear.
Yamashita’s diary entry demonstrates how Japanese immigrants during WWII were stripped of their due process rights because of xenophobia and racism. Yamashita’s unjust arrest, removal, and incarceration was partially a product of Japanese immigrants being “otherized” by American anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant sentiment for most of the 20th century. In the early to mid 20th century, Japanese immigrants faced immense anti-Japanese sentiment in California from political labor groups, individuals, and legislation: California’s Alien Land Law of 1913 restricted “aliens” from owning land; the Gentlemen’s Agreement and the 1924 Immigration Act restricted Japanese entry into the United States; and the 1940 Alien Registration Act forced all “aliens” above the age of 14 to register and be fingerprinted. All of these contributed to the “otherization” of Japanese immigrants and their children, and implied a flawed presumption that they could not truly be “real Americans” in the 20th century. The anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant rhetoric came to a peak after the attacks on Pearl Harbor spurred irrational distrust towards Japanese Americans and other immigrant groups in America.
Yamashita, and many other Japanese immigrants who were living in the U.S., had to face the constant barrier of anti-immigrant rhetoric and unjust legislation that deemed them to be “un-American” or unassimilable. Yamashita’s diary entry reveals his experience of being unjustly arrested in his own home, detained without cause, and imprisoned in a concentration camp due to his race. His experience exemplifies the real-life consequences of being excluded from the arbitrary definition of “an American.” Although Yamashita’s experience is unique to the context of WWII, his experience is just one example of that signifies that American immigrants have historically been susceptible to being excluded from the definition of “an American,” and as a result, have seen instances where they have been stripped of their unalienable rights.
Fordellone and Yamashita’s stories reveal common themes of vulnerability, systemic inequality, discrimination, and “otherization” that America’s immigrant populations have been subjected to throughout the country’s history. Although historic instances of “otherization” and discrimination do not solely define the American immigrant experience, it has played a significant factor in the way immigrant populations have been received and treated. The stories of Fordellone and Yamashita tell only a small story in the long history of discrimination that Japanese and Italian immigrants have faced in the United States. WWII was not the catalyst for discrimination, but rather, it acted as an immense amplifier of the discrimination. In the early 20th century, both of Japanese and Italian immigrants were already facing immense racist and xenophobic sentiment and legislation that “otherized” and targeted them. However, during WWII, war hysteria amplified preexisting racist and xenophobic sentiment which resulted in the targeting of Japanese and Italian immigrants, and the loss of their civil liberties. Although the details and extent of their incarceration experiences are different, both Fordellone and Yamashita experienced the trauma and injustices American immigrants have historically faced because of their vulnerability to systematic discrimination and anti-immigrant prejudice in America.
If you would like to learn more about Gihachi Yamashita’s story, check-out JANM’s, “Enemy Mail: An American Story of Wartime Separation,” which is dedicated to telling his and his family’s story of incarceration during WWII through artifacts in JANM’s Yamashita Collection. If you would like to learn more about Filippo Fordellone or see other objects pertaining to Fordellone you may visit the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles’s online collection webpage.
This year’s JANM holiday card features a photograph of the Hayakawa family celebrating Christmas. The 3.75″ square photo is one of dozens of family moments captured in the Hayakawa family photo album donated by Ruth Sumiko Kacho (née Hayakawa) in 2002, and preserved in JANM’s permanent collection.
The Kacho Collection, totaling 68 objects, includes studio portraits, panoramic photos, marriage licenses, letters, books, and a photo album, which includes dozens of candid family shots including this year’s holiday image.
The album was compiled by Ruth’s father, Mataichi (Martin) Hayakawa, who inscribed its pages with the locations, dates and names of those in the photographs. The back page of the album, is marked with the date November 30, 1967, presumably indicating when the album was completed.
The album includes photographs of Mataichi and his wife, Tomiko, and their families and friends in Japan and in South America; Mataichi and Tomiko’s lives before marriage—including his travels to South America, Cuba, and England, and her service as a nurse in Korea; their life and floral business in Southern California; family friends and associates in Southern California; family trips to tourist destinations in the U.S. and Japan; post-war life in Japan during the occupation; and two generations of child rearing (Mataichi and Tomiko Hayakawa; Ruth and her husband, Marquis Hironobu Kacho).
Upon its acceptance into JANM’s permanent collection in 2002, curator Emily Anderson wrote, “The album figuratively and literally brings together into a single document the separate and shared experiences of Mataichi, his wife Tomiko, Ruth and her siblings, and Hironobu Kacho.”
The Kacho Collection also includes an oral history interview with Ruth. Prompted by JANM volunteers Its Endo and Yoshiko Sakurai, on December 1999, Ruth sat with JANM volunteer Gary Ono and curator Sojin Kim to tell her fascinating life story and have it videotaped. Ruth recounted her father and mother’s immigration story, her childhood growing up in Los Angeles’s Atwater Village district, her education in Japan at Keisen Girls School in Tokyo, her marriage to Marquis Hironobu Kacho, and her work in Japan during World War II as a broadcaster with Radio Tokyo.
For the first time since its recording, Ruth’s interview can now be viewed as part of JANM’s Unboxed video series, which shines light on the thousands of objects in its permanent collection.
And perhaps, as you gather (remotely via Zoom or Skype) with aunts, uncles, and grandparents this coming holiday season, you will find time to sit, talk, and possibly record some of your own family stories!
This summer, Getty Marrow undergraduate interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles collaborated to create a collections-based project that explored the question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions suggested that the answer to this specific question would not fully encapsulate the experience of immigrants and their descendents in the United States. As a result, each intern expanded the parameters of the question to provide a different perspective and highlight an artifact that touched upon different facets of the American experience and identity. In this post, Rino Kodama and Araceli Ramos explore the ingenuity of immigrants to endure economic and social hardships in the United States by integrating aspects of their culture and values.
Rino Kodama of the Japanese American National Museum and Araceli Ramos of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes selected items that demonstrate the ingenuity and adaptability of immigrant women in the United States. Araceli’s artifact tells the story of a Mexican immigrant who created a unique American identity for herself by combining her traditional sewing skills with her new life in the United States. Rino’s submission continues the theme of ingenuity in her analysis of an indigo kasuri jacket. For Rino, the jacket, which was repurposed from a kimono to plantation clothing, symbolizes how Japanese immigrant women drew upon cultural traditions out of necessity to survive in the United States. Rino and Araceli’s posts demonstrate the notion that in the face of immense hardship, immigrant women have integrated aspects of their own culture in order to reinvent themselves and establish a unique and blended American identity.
Contributed by: Araceli Ramos, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes
The rust colored velvet jacket on display in Calle Principal: Mi México en Los Ángeles, a permanent exhibition located inside LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, has a dynamic history filled with memories of family and tradition. This piece was donated to the museum during its first year of operation in 2011. Arlene Etheridge, a volunteer, wanted to help showcase Mexican migration stories during the 1920s. The piece dates back to 1926, when it was hand stitched by Lupe Lara, Arlene’s mother, who migrated to the United States in 1921 at the age of 9. The piece was made in the fashionable fitted style of the era using a rust colored velvet fabric. It is adorned with velvet covered buttons, and corresponding loops, along the middle closure of the main body. The fine sewing on the puffed sleeves and pointed collar add a decorative touch to the fitted silhouette.
Lupe Lara was born on May 27, 1912, in Zamora, Michoacán, México, to Luciano Lara, a Zamora courthouse judge and Dolores Covarrubia, a homemaker. In 1915, when Lupe was just three years old, the Typhus epidemic erupted in Mexico City, taking the lives of thousands of people as it spread across the nation. Tragically, Lupe’s mother and younger sister passed away in 1917 after contracting the disease. Unable to care for his daughter, Luciano moved Lupe into a nearby convent to be cared for and raised by nuns. The state of Michoacán is known throughout Mexico and the world for its regional epicenters of artisan crafts. While in the northern convent, Lupe received an elementary school education and learned the regional skill of fine hand-sewing and embroidery. She lived there for five years until 1921 when her father returned with the news that they would be moving to the United States. After joining a large caravan of horse drawn carriages, they arrived in Los Angeles a year later in 1922. In 1924, Luciano was able to purchase a small grocery store at the cross section of Kearney St. and Myers St., just north of Mission Road in Los Angeles. Lupe attended elementary school in Boyle Heights and would work at her family’s store in the evening after school.
In 1926, Lupe received a Singer sewing machine as a Christmas gift from her father. Two years later and at the age of 16, she began working as a seamstress in Downtown L.A.’s garment district. Due to her advanced knowledge of the craft, she was quickly promoted. The skills she learned during her time in the convent, and later honed while living in Los Angeles, became a source of security for herself and her family during the Great Depression. While millions were losing their jobs, Lupe was able to provide for her family by using her sewing skills to create beautiful dresses for the Hollywood elite of the era. Later in life, Lupe married and became a homemaker. She taught her children the skills she learned when she was a child. Lupe’s daughter, Arlene, inherited her mother’s affinity for craftsmanship. She became an artist incorporating her mother’s traditional sewing techniques into her art, embroidery, and jewelry designs.
Lupe’s story reveals that the “American Identity” has always been a complex combination of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Instead of succumbing to societal pressures of complete assimilation into American culture, Lupe used her traditional sewing skills to create an identity for herself that beautifully blended her heritage with her life in the United States. Her velvet jacket represents the reconciliation of two cultures into a singular “American Identity” that lives and has evolved in Los Angeles and through her descendants.
Indigo Kasuri Jacket
Contributed by: Rino Kodama, Japanese American National Museum
This indigo kasuri jacket is one of many pieces in the Barbara Kawakami Collection at JANM. The jacket is a navy blue, denim color with a white dot pattern and mock collar. The fabric is worn out and many layers of stitches are made with a sewing machine in an attempt to keep the fabric together. This particular jacket was made by Haruno Tazawa.
“Kasuri” is a Japanese textile term to describe fabric that has been treated with a dye process involving a resist method, creating geometric shapes. These types of jackets were worn by Japanese women plantation laborers in Waipahu, Hawai‘i during the early 20th century. The design of the kasuri jackets drew inspiration from other immigrant working class communities. For example, the “mock” collar stems from the Mandarin collar, as many Chinese laborers wore this style of clothing and it protected their necks from the sun, as well as from dust. The cotton kasuri fabric was originally a kimono, and turned into a jacket by Haruno Tazawa, a picture bride from Fukushima, Japan.
The majority of issei women were picture brides—women who immigrated to the United States through the process of an arranged marriage. Tazawa arrived in Hawai‘i on July 27, 1917 and married Chozo Tazawa, arranged by her sister who was already living and working on a Hawaiian plantation. Mr. Tazawa was a Luna, a plantation foreman considered a high status position back then for a Japanese man. Mr. Tazawa passed away early, and life became difficult for Mrs. Tazawa as she only had 35 cents to her name. She began to sew tabi, bento bags, and jackets for plantation bachelors at night to support herself and her four children.
Men like Mr. Tazawa travelled to Hawai‘i and the continental United States seeking economic opportunity, but many ended up working in low paying jobs at sugarcane and pineapple plantations—women laborers made about 16 dollars a month.
Many picture brides like Mrs. Tazawa who immigrated to the United States utilized their skills in textiles and sewing to repurpose their prized kimonos into “plantation clothing”—apparel that can withstand the long hours in the sun working in sugar cane and pineapple fields. At first when they began working on the plantations, they wore their kimonos as they were used to wearing them. Realizing that carrying out heavy labor was not easy with long kimono sleeves, they began to alter their kimonos into clothing better suited for the plantation. The design of plantation clothing drew from Chinese, Portugese, Puerto Rican, and Hawaiian apparel. An exchange of cultural wear allowed women to create clothing that would feel comfortable and supportive for their labor. For example, the Mandarin collar and gusset sleeve came from Chinese laborers. Gathered skirts were drawn from Portugese and Puerto Rican women. Along with the kasuri jacket, women would wear a straw bonnet, using scarves to cover their face, and momohiki (pantaloons). To view more artifacts in the Barbara Kawakami Collection, click here.
This kasuri jacket, along with Haruno Tazawa’s story as a picture bride reveal that immigrants have shown resilience in an unknown land while facing economic insecurity, and adapted cultural traditions to survive in America. Using their precious kimonos and repurposing them into plantation clothing came out of necessity. Although separated by language and ethnicity, immigrant women laborers drew textile techniques from one another to create plantation clothing, crossing cultures to support one another as working class women. The United States of America is known as the “Land of Opportunity,” but the experiences of Japanese women laborers in Hawai‘i reflect that their realities were extremely difficult, working endlessly to sustain themselves and their families.
Both Lupe Lara and Haruno Tazawa faced economic uncertainty, but through their ingenuity and resolve they were able to survive and support their families. Tazawa and Lara’s experiences also demonstrate the complexity of the “American identity” and American experience. Tazawa and Lara combined their backgrounds and experiences to help themselves adapt to life in their adopted country. In the case of Tazawa, she blended her culture and skills into her new life by repurposing her kimono in order to adapt to the harsh plantation labor. For Lara, her American identity was an amalgamation of her life in Mexico and her need to support her family and herself in the United States. The design of Lara’s velvet jacket exemplifies her “American identity” as it mixed Lara’s Mexican culture and fashion with her new found life in America. After her success in the Los Angeles’s fashion district, Lara passed on her skills and craftsmanship to her own children, and subsequently also handed-down her blended Mexican-American traditions and values.
Rino and Araceli demonstrated through their highlighted artifacts that immigrant populations have often shaped the definition of what it means to be an American, by necessity. Lara and Tazawa had to adapt in order to survive the economic insecurity they faced when they immigrated to America, and consequently, their experience in their adopted country was defined by their perseverance. Together, Rino and Araceli reveal that the American experience and “American identity” are complex and are greatly influenced by the experiences of immigrant populations.
If you are interested in viewing Lupe Lara’s jacket or learning more about Los Angeles during the 1920s, you can visit La Plaza de Cultura y Artes and view one of their permanent exhibitions: Calle Principal: Mi México en Los Ángeles. If you would like to learn more about the Barbara Kawakami Collection or see other artifacts and textiles pertaining to late 19th and early 20th century Japanese immigrants, you can view JANM’s online collection.
Flip through the Vendor Catalog for more great gift ideas. You an also watch the Virtual Kokoro2020 video to see some of the vendors talking about their products (find links to all of the vendor’s websites/contacts below the video).
Make sure to write “Kokoro2020” on your orders this month so that your purchases will benefit JANM’s educational programs!
Thank you for your support of Kokoro2020 and JANM. The Kokoro Committee wishes your holidays are safe and most joyous.
Watch the Virtual Kokoro2020 video program (find links to all of the vendor’s websites/contacts below the video) and check out the vendor catalog. Some of the vendors mentioned above talk about their products in the video! Make sure to write “Kokoro2020” on your orders this month so that your purchases will benefit JANM’s educational programs!
My name is Jose Quirarte and this summer I have had the opportunity to work at the Japanese American National Museum as the Getty Marrow Collections and Curatorial Intern. I recently graduated from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a bachelor’s degree in history. Throughout my undergraduate work I studied the 20th century ethnic American experience, focusing a majority of my research on the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. As a result, I wanted to create a capstone project during my internship at JANM that reflected my research interests in the Japanese American experience as well as those of other ethnic communities by exploring the complexity of American identity.
In order to fulfill this capstone project, I invited Getty Marrow Undergraduate Interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, the Chinese American Museum, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles to collaborate and create a collections-based project that focused on the ethnic American experience. Specifically, the project invited each intern to highlight items in their museum’s respective collection that reveal lesser known stories and demonstrate how the American experience has been shaped and defined by its rich ethnic history.
Interns selected an artifact or artwork that related to the broad project question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
Participants were encouraged to view and interpret this question from different perspectives and were provided a variety of sub-questions to further delve into different facets of the American experience. The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions made it clear that the answer to this specific question would not fully encompass the American experience of immigrants and their descendents. The interns, through the objects that they selected and wrote about, demonstrated the complexity of the immigrant experience in the United States. They underscored obstacles and triumphs, the ingenuity of immigrants, the unique cultural identity that formed, and the notion that “being American” has not historically conformed to one singular definition.
The following Getty Marrow Undergraduate Interns participated by shaping their own interpretations of the project question:
Japanese American National Museum: Jose Quirarte, Shelby Ottengheime, and Rino Kodama
Italian American Museum of Los Angeles: Mercedes Solaberrieta
La Plaza de Cultura y Artes: Araceli Ramos
The resulting capstone project has been crafted into a blog series titled Ethnic Effects. I have synthesized and framed the submissions into a series of posts that reveal a different facet of the American experience through an analysis of collection items.
I answered the broad project question, by selecting a drawing from JANM’s Miné Okubo Collection (2007.62). I argue that it reveals the complexity of “American identity” and the ways in which it is shaped by the cultural traditions and experiences of immigrants and their children.
Jose Quirarte, Japanese American National Museum
In this untitled work, artist Miné Okubo depicts herself seated at a mess hall table while she observes several individuals in the process of pounding mochi at the Topaz concentration camp in Utah during World War II. Miné Okubo was just one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in America’s concentration camps without due process because of racism and war hysteria. Executive Order 9066 laid the foundation for exclusion of Japanese Americans on the West Coast and their subsequent forced removal. Miné Okubo’s drawings depict the World War II incarceration experience— from removal on the West Coast to daily life at Topaz.
This particular drawing depicts a scene of mochitsuki, a Japanese New Year’s tradition of pounding sweet rice into mochi (rice cakes). Mochi is an important ingredient in a New Year’s soup called ozoni, which is supposed to bring luck. The three men in the background take turns pounding the sweet rice with large wooden mallets while the man kneeling in front turns the mochi and moistens it with water. To the left of Okubo, there are several mochi cakes resting on the counter.
On the surface, this drawing seems to only speak about the mochi-making process in the Topaz concentration camp. However, the drawing, in conjunction with Okubo’s other drawings, helps to reveal the dynamic nature of “American identity” by depicting Japanese Americans actively participating in Japanese traditions. From behind barbed wire fences, Japanese Americans demonstrated that American identity was not homogenous; rather, American identity had always been inherently diverse and multifaceted due to the integration of a variety of immigrant groups and their respective traditions and values. Okubo’s drawing of mochi-making signified the reality that many Japanese Americans held on to traditional Japanese institutions and values. Furthermore, her drawings indicate that Japanese Americans placed an importance on maintaining Japanese traditions, despite attempts by the War Relocation Authority to “Americanize” and “assimilate” them. From within the confines of America’s concentration camps, Japanese traditions and cultures thrived and persisted among the Japanese American community.
If the meaning of what it means to be an “American” is confined to the restrictive ideas of the “melting pot” and a European American standard, then it would allow no room for the preservation of outside cultures and traditions. Yet, Okubo and many other Japanese individuals, within the confines of concentration camps, maintained their cultural traditions and redefined the contemporary definition of American identity. Okubo’s drawings counter the restrictive narrative of the “melting pot” and highlight that Japanese immigrants and their children valued Japanese culture and were intent on keeping their traditions alive. More importantly, Okubo’s drawings reveal a bigger picture: “American identity” is inherently complex and diverse and it is shaped by the values and experiences of immigrant populations and their children.
This series, entitled: “Ethnic Effects,” will reveal commonalities and shared experiences in the American experience through material culture artifacts from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles. The title of this series underscores the overall goal of the project: to highlight personal effects residing at cultural and ethnic museums, and use their historical significance to demonstrate the effect immigrant populations have had on shaping the American experience. Each of the posts in this series analyzes the complexity of “American identity” and demonstrates that the American experience is multifaceted. Through the Getty interns’ analysis of their respective museum items, several throughlines are apparent within the American immigrant experience. In coming to America, immigrant groups and their children have often had to adapt and reinvent themselves, face immense systemic oppression based on racial prejudice, and persevere in any way they can in order to survive. Each of the following posts reveals stories of American immigrants that exemplify the notion that the immigrant experience is not just a minor chapter in America’s history, but is instead an integral part in understanding the complex story of the American experience:
This project has been a wonderful opportunity for several of us Getty MUI interns to meet and collaborate on a project outside of our immediate internships. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing museum personnel to work from home, a majority of the interns have only had a digital experience working with their institution. Regardless of the unfavorable transition, our supervisors have adapted and have provided the Getty interns with a valuable experience working in the museum field. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the supervisors for their support of this project and their ingenuity in adapting their Getty programs to accommodate work from home.
Thank you to Kristen Hayashi, Clement Hanami, and Akira Boch of JANM; Marianna Gatto of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles; Gina Alicia Lopez Ramos, Erika Garcia, and Liz Gama of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes; Rachelle Shumard and Ashley Lee of the Chinese American Museum.
Without your support, this project would have not been possible.
It’s finally here! Watch the 40-minute video program below and then use this flipping book catalog to view the vendor’s products at your leisure and to point and click to quickly access your favorite vendor’s website or email address.
Virtual Kokoro2020 runs from November 14 to 30. Make sure to write “Kokoro2020” on your orders this month so that your purchases will benefit JANM’s educational programs!
The Kokoro program schedule with video time stamps and links to their websites/email addresses are below. No sign-in or registration is required.
Enjoy the video program! Have fun shopping for holiday gifts and for yourself!
KOKORO 2020 CUSTOMER FAQ
How do I let a vendor know this is a “Kokoro2020” purchase?
Vendors have a variety of methods for accepting sales. The vendors with websites sometimes have a spot where you can add a comment. This is where you can indicate the sale is due to the Kokoro2020 event. If the vendor has a shopping cart with no spot to add a comment, then please email the vendor to let them know you want your purchase tagged as a “Kokoro2020” sale.
If there is a problem with my order, can I contact Kokoro2020 or JANM?
You will contact the vendor directly to make your purchase and to resolve any problems. Please do not contact Kokoro2020 or JANM.
Is there a place to view all the vendors that were in the video?
A flipping book catalog of all the vendors, their products, and their website or email address is available to view and download here. Once the catalog opens, click anywhere on the page and you will be taken to the flipping book site.
How will my purchase help JANM?
Vendors will donate 10% of Kokoro2020-identified sales to JANM, which will benefit JANM’s education programs. While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily halted in-person programs for school groups, education programs have gone on-line and virtual visits are now available to virtual classrooms across the country. Visit janm.org/groupvisits to learn more!