New Beginnings

After another summer spent in California, I’m back in the lovely city of Kalamazoo, Michigan for another studious school year. However, this summer was not just “another summer spent in California”. This summer I had the pleasure and privilege of spending ten weeks as the curatorial intern at the Japanese American National Museum.

I am one who is very familiar with a ten-week timeframe. Attending a college that is on the quarter system, I live for the never-long-enough-but-much-needed break that follows the completion of another quarter of the school year. However, after finishing my first year at school and yearning for the summer, little did I know, I was in for another set of ten weeks interning at the Japanese American National Museum that would be unlike any quarter I could ever have imagined.

Like each quarter at school, the ten weeks I spent at the museum flew by in the blink of an eye. It feels like only a week ago that I first met one of my fellow interns, Yuiko, on the front steps of the museum as we exchanged confused glances and comments on how we were supposed to actually get inside the museum to be on time to our first day of work, or when we first met all the volunteers and were met with kind smiles and all the food our hearts could desire.

I have learned so much during my ten week journey at the Museum, having been involved in researching in permanent collections, conducting oral histories, reviewing collections offers, and assisting with public programs. I feel I can now proudly say that I am definitely more savvy into the workings of a museum than when I first stepped foot into my position ten weeks ago. However, one of the many things I am taking away from my journey at the museum is the importance of knowing one’s roots, knowing your history, knowing where you came from and how you got where you are today. When I first began this internship I was posed this question by one of my supervisors, Lisa: “So what’s your family story?” A little caught off guard, I stumbled to come up with a very brief synopsis of what I knew about my family, which pretty much can be summed up with both my grandparents and parents having immigrated to the United States from Korea in the 1970s and a vague bit of my grandfathers having fought in the Korean War. I realized I actually didn’t know that much about where my family came from or how I got here. Having grown up all my life speaking English to my parents, eating more lasagna and tamales than bibimbap, and speaking semi-fluent German but toddler-like Korean, I realized I really never was truly in touch with my Asian American roots, for various reasons, including plainly, the fact that I had never made the effort to be. However, that has changed over the course of the past ten weeks. The majority of my internship has been spent doing research in collections and learning the multitude of amazing stories that people have. Prior to beginning here, I knew very little of Japanese American history. I knew what I had been taught in my history textbooks, which was nothing near sufficient. Throughout this experience I have learned that the Japanese American experience wasn’t as simple as war, camp, and redress, nor did everyone share the same story. Through the research I have done, the stories I have heard from people that I have interviewed, the books I have read, and the amazing people I have interacted with, I have been educated in ways that no textbook could ever do justice. Everyone has an amazing story that deserves to be preserved and shared with others, there is no basic outline that one can follow when it comes to history. The things I have learned have caused me to have a newfound curiosity for my family’s own beginnings and journey. Everyone has their own amazing story, but these stories can so easily be lost if they remains solely in the memories and minds of those who lived them.

Over the course of the months I spent at the museum I met many amazing people, learned many things, from how to find my way through the many cabinets, drawers, and folders in Collections to how to¬¬¬ conduct oral histories, and most certainly, bonded the JANM way over plates and plates of food. As this California girl prepares to settle back into the Midwest for another year at school, I am proud to say that I feel I am going back a little older, wiser, and with a summer full of fond memories spent at the Museum. As the final 2011 Getty intern to say her farewell on this blog, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has made my summer one for the books!

Much love,
2011 Getty Curatorial Intern

One thought to “New Beginnings”

  1. Hi Alexa: I don’t know if you remember, but I mentioned my granddaughter, Jasmine Okamoto, was also attending Kalamzoo. She just returned after spending last semseter in Costa Rico. She is back at the college this semester in case the of cross paths.
    Yous, Tues, Thurs Docent James K. Tanaka

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