On September 12, 2023, the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS), and other Little Tokyo partners celebrated the upcoming 100th anniversary of JANM’s Historic Building with a new plaque and street signs marking the building’s significance and its City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument designation.
JANM’s Director of Collections Management and Access and Curator, Kristen Hayashi, welcomed the group and introduced Michael Okamura, president of the Little Tokyo Historical Society, who spoke about the LTHS’s efforts to raise the visibility of historic sites throughout Little Tokyo, including the Koyasan Buddhist Temple, the Kame Restaurant, the Finale Club, Sei Fujii and J. Marion Wright Memorial Lantern, Toyo Miyatake Way, Reverend Howard Toriumi Plaza, and the Aoyama Tree.
“You could tell that throughout Little Tokyo these are significant. We honor these legacy people who were before us and it’s very important. When you walk throughout Little Tokyo please take a moment and absorb all these people and the naming sites,” said Okamura.
Rev. William Briones of Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple then spoke about how the site played an important role in the spiritual and social life of the community.
“It was a place of spiritual refuge, community, a playground for the children, a place to grieve for their loved ones, and to find joy in the joining of two people. And who could forget the iconic picture that Archie Miyatake took? The backdrop of one of the assembly points from which local Issei and Nisei were sent to the camp. Today we are truly honored for this recognition and even though a lot of people don’t know the history of this, there are so many fond and wonderful memories of this temple. Thank you for this recognition,” said Briones. Afterward, both of them unveiled the new signs on 1st Street that now mark the historic site.
The Historic Building was designed by local architect Edgar Cline and built in 1925 as the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist temple. In 1985, the newly incorporated JANM signed a fifty-year lease with the City of Los Angeles to renovate the temple and convert it into a museum. The renovation was conceived by a consortium of eight Japanese American architects: Marcia Chiono, David Kikuchi, Shigeru Masumoto, Yoshio Nishimoto, Frank Sata, Takashi Shida, George Shinmo, and Robert Uyeda. In 1986 it was designated as City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument 313. In 1992 JANM opened its doors to the public with 23,800 square feet of space for exhibitions, collections, and public programs.
“JANM’s Historic Building is our oldest and largest artifact on our campus. It is hallowed ground, a site of conscience, and a gathering place for civic engagement and social justice. The plaque and street signs not only commemorate the Historic Building’s history in the Japanese American community but also expands the public’s understanding of its significance to the history of Los Angeles and the US. Commemorating the building’s history ensures that past injustices will never be repeated and that diverse voices will be heard now and into the future,” said Ann Burroughs, President and CEO of JANM.
Principal City Planner and Manager for the City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, Ken Bernstein, praised the new plaque and street signs for raising the visibility of the historic site in Little Tokyo.
“Our historic buildings anchor us in an ever changing city. They really provide a meaningful connection to our collective memory—that bridge between past, present, and future. Thanks to you, the historic designation and enhanced visibility through the street sign and the plaque will continue to allow the Little Tokyo community to connect to its rich heritage and really use that rich heritage as a way of continuing to promote the vitality of the Little Tokyo community.”
Actor, activist, JANM Trustee, and Board Chair Emeritus, George Takei, joined Burroughs and Bernstein to unveil the bronze plaque, now installed at the building’s historic entrance.
Hayashi closed the ceremony by noting the significance of the ceremony and the power of place that JANM’s Historic Building has on its own and in relation to JANM’s Pavilion.
“These places matter to us and our community and we want people to know about its significance; that’s why we have this ceremony today. We could’ve just mounted the plaque but instead we really wanted people to know that it’s here. Several people have pointed out that there are several generations of people here today to witness this moment and it’s so fitting because as you turn around and you look towards JANM’s Pavilion, the architects of the Pavilion really wanted us to reflect on our past. Our past is what guides our present and future. It’s symbolic of who’s represented here. We have several generations here to carry on the legacy of those who have come before us in Little Tokyo.”
A special surprise performance by the children of Nishi Daycare charmed the audience of fifty who gathered in the plaza for the celebration.
JANM will be closed on August 10, 2023 in observance of the anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. JANM honors this anniversary to acknowledge incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in US concentration camps without due process or evidence of wrongdoing.
On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a formal Presidential apology and symbolic payment of financial reparations to surviving Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. The act was the first and only time that the US government publicly apologized for a mistake acknowledging that the forced removal and unconstitutional incarceration was caused by a failure of political leadership, wartime hysteria, and racism.
Click on the following online resources to learn more about the Civil Liberties Act of 1988:
However, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 did not extend to Japanese Latin Americans, Germans, and Italians who were interned and incarcerated in the Department of Justice (DOJ) camps. Japanese Latin Americans continue to fight for redress today and educate the public through annual pilgrimages, like the Crystal City Pilgrimage.
Check out these Discover Nikkei stories to learn more about those who were incarcerated in the DOJ camps.
Hannah Tomiko Holmes and Doris Sato, Fabric-Framed Photograph Commemorating the Efforts of the National Council for Japanese American Redress, 1987, fabric and paper, Japanese American National Museum, 88.4.1B.
Hannah Tomiko Holmes, Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, Michi Weglyn, William Hohri, Aiko Herzig, and Harry Y. Ueno Dolls, ca. early 1990s, fabric, 16” in height, Japanese American National Museum, gift of Hannah Tomiko Holmes, 88.4.1C.
The humble work truck or van may not seem as glamorous as a sports coupe or luxury sedan but as utility vehicles, they have served Japanese Americans in Los Angeles for over 100 years. Established by Fred J. Fujioka in the mid-1910s, the Japanese Auto Club of Southern California had over 850 members of Japanese descent listed in their member guide. Many members had registered their trucks, presumably used for delivering goods throughout the Southland.
Farmers, gardeners, shop owners, and other working class Nikkei couldn’t ply their trades without access to work vehicles. As prosaic as they looked, the ways in which owners adapted them to their needs made them as unique as any custom car. This was especially true for gardeners, once the economic lifeblood of the Southern California’s Japanese American community, for whom the pickup truck became an iconic sight for several generations.
As part of our forthcoming exhibition on Nikkei car culture in Southern California, we are looking for images of local Japanese Americans with their work trucks, vans, and cars. Many people may have posed in front of their family cars but we know there are also photos of people with their utility vehicles too. We want to make sure these—and the people behind them—are properly represented in our exhibition.
Right now, we prefer to look at digital scans (if possible). Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org by July 31, 2023.
Photo: Buntaro Tabuchi from Amache with his gardening tools and truck, loading up for the day’s work in Los Angeles, June 25, 1945, Online Archive of California. Photo by Charles E. Mace.
These days, stopping by a gas station or taking your car to a service center may be seen as a necessary inconvenience but once upon a time, gas and service stations could be like informal neighborhood hubs: a place to stop and chat, even if only for the few minutes it took to top off your gas, check your oil, etc.
This was especially true in Southern California where countless Japanese Americans ran stations through the region. If you grew up here, chances are, you remember a few of your favorite stations. Some of you may even remember the names of the people who used to run them.
If all you remember is the intersection where the station is or was, that’s useful to us. If you remember the name of the station and/or the name(s) of the Japanese American owner(s), even better.
We’re also interested in seeing any photos that people may have of those stations and the people who worked there.
Please fill out this form to submit your response. We’ll use this information to create a database and interactive map of all the gas/service stations in the region, based on all your replies. Thank you!
We greeted over 6,000 visitors to JANM on January 8, 2023 as we welcomed in the Year of the Rabbit with oodles of family-friendly activities. Families of all ages enjoyed the New Year festivities including hand-sculpted candy-making demonstrations to craft activities and mochi (rice cake) pounding performances.
The occasion brought together those with Japanese ancestry keen to pass on cultural traditions to their young ones and others who came to share a memorable experience.
This is the first hybrid JANM Oshogatsu Family Festival since the pandemic. The all-day festival featured a range of events such as the improv comedy performance by Cold Tofu, the nation’s longest running AsianAmerican improv group, and the dynamic, large-scale calligraphy performance by Kunihara Yoshida.
Enjoy some highlights from the 2023 Oshogatsu Family Festival!
Watch the highlights from the 2023 Oshogatsu Family Festival! (available for a limited time only)
On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a formal presidential apology and symbolic payment of financial reparations to surviving Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. Although many of the first generation Issei had already passed away and did not receive the apology, which occurred more than 40 years later, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was the first and only time that the US government publicly apologized for a mistake acknowledging that the exclusion, forced removal, and mass incarceration was due to a failure of political leadership, war hysteria, and racism.
JANMhonors this anniversary to acknowledge the unconstitutional, mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in remote US concentration camps without due process or evidence of wrongdoing 80 years ago. While recognizing the apology,JANM is also well aware that other past mistakes by the US government against Blacks and indigenous communities deserve recognition and reparations.
To learn more about the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, explore these online educational resources from JANM:
Photo: President Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 on August 10, 1988. From left to right, he is flanked by Senator Matsunaga of Hawaii, Representative Mineta of California, Representative Saiki of Hawaii, Senator Wilson of California, Representative Young of Alaska, Representative Matsui of California, Representative Lowery of California, and Harry Kajihara, president of the Japanese American Citizens League. Photo courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Library and National Archives and Records Administration.
I’ve worked on countless projects during my 27 years with the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), but my favorite is Discover Nikkei, JANM’s community-based web project. Through Discover Nikkei, I have not only learned about the experiences of Nikkei (Japanese emigrants and their descendants) all around the world but have met diverse individuals from the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Japan, and so many other places.
Discover Nikkei brings these individuals, organizations, communities, and stories together in one place. It fascinates me to see how local customs, resources, and histories create unique adaptations to Japanese culture, traditions, food, and language, and how Nikkei in different parts of the world can be so different and yet so similar. It fascinates me to see that yearning to connect with our ancestors and broaden our sense of cultural identity.
The work we do with Discover Nikkei brings me immense satisfaction and pride. We are a very small team. Project manager Yoko Nishimura and I have invested so much of ourselves into this project. But through our partnerships, the work of our growing cadre of dedicated volunteers, and our global network, we have created something of real value and meaning. It is alot of work, but it has definitely been a labor of love for us.
And yet, we’ve always known that there is the potential for so much more!
We’re so excited that Discover Nikkei has recently received new major funding from The Nippon Foundation to improve and further expand the website. This funding will give us the opportunity to take the project to the next level. The expansion project will include a major redesign of the site, as well as improving usability and access to content, increased translations of content, additional ways to participate, and new features that will facilitate user to user connections and communication. The goal is to make the website a platform for connecting, empowering, and providing access to the global network of Discover Nikkei.
As part of the planning process, we have developed a survey to gather feedback from current and potential community members. We would love to hear your thoughts on how we can make this project stronger.
Please fill out our survey at the link below (available until midnight on June 3, Pacific Time). Your responses will help us determine what features and enhancements to include and prioritize as we move forward. The survey is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese.
We are also seeking input from Nikkei organizations or any institution/group that has a significant Nikkei membership or focus. If you are part of one or know of one (or more!) that you think would benefit from Discover Nikkei’s network, please email editor@DiscoverNikkei.org with the contact information and we will send the link to the survey for organizations.
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.”
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.
At JANM, we love our volunteers, and to tell you the truth, this place wouldn’t keep running without them. In 2018, our active, seasonal, and trainee volunteers contributed a total 26,900 hours for events, school programs, tours, and many other activities—all because they are dedicated to telling the story of the Japanese American experience. We even had seven volunteers who each contributed more than 500 hours of service! We try to find small ways to thank them all throughout the year, but on May 11, 2019, we held our annual Volunteer Recognition Awards Event to demonstrate our sincere appreciation for all they do for us. Each year the volunteers themselves and staff of JANM are invited to nominate volunteers who have provided especially outstanding service in several award categories. A selection committee made up of staff and previous awardees painstakingly evaluate the nominations and make the final selections.
For 2018, Teri Lim received the Administration Award, which recognizes outstanding service and achievement in the administrative/operations capacity. June Berk was given the Community Award for outstanding service and achievement in working with visitors, the public, and in the community on behalf of the museum. Maria Kelly got the Program Award for service and achievement in educating visitors through public and school programs. And Tami Hirai was awarded the Miki Tanimura Outstanding Volunteer Award, named after a passionate volunteer who passed away in 1992.
In addition to the awards, we give service pins to those who have stuck with us through the years. Two of our volunteers, Mary Karasawa and Richard “Babe” Karasawa celebrated their 30th anniversary of volunteering, meaning they’ve been giving their time since before we originally opened our doors to the public back in 1992!
Other pins were given out as follows: One Year—John Karasawa, Elizabeth Kato, Janet Morey, Patrice Okabe, Don Tanaka, Blossom Uyeda, and Donna Wakano; Five Years—Ben Furuta and Yas Osako; Ten Years—June Magsaysay, Jeanette Onishi, and Keiko Yokota; Fifteen Years—Yosh Arima, Jo Ann Hamamura, Ken Hamamura, Hagi Kusunoki, and Ken Nakagawa, Twenty Years—Sande Hashimoto, Marie Masumoto, Robert Moriguchi, and Lauren Nakasuji, Twenty-Five Years—Joyce Inouye, Jane Kim, and Matsuko Uyeno.
We also want to thank the presenters and those who helped during, before, and after the event: Yae Aihara, Ann Burroughs, John Esaki, Tom Gallatin, Jo Ann Hamamura, Ken Hamamura, Clement Hanami, Kristen Hayashi, Jamie Henricks, Shawn Iwaoka, Gene Kanamori, Hal Keimi, Evan Kodani, Randall Lee, Janet Maloney, Marie Masumoto, Alyctra Matsushita, Masako Miki, Cynthia Mikimoto, Carol Miyahira, Annette Miyamoto, Luis Montanez, Julia Murakami, Yuka Murakami, Vicky Murakami-Tsuda, Irene Nakagawa, Nina Nakao, Yoko Nishimura, Nobuyuki Okada, Sohayla Pagano, Jaime Reyes, Tsuneo Takasugi, Travis Takenouchi, Teri Tanimura, Bob Uragami, Lynn Yamasaki, King’s Hawaiian for the cookie bar, and all the JANM staff members who wrote thank you notes for our volunteers.
For information about volunteering with JANM,
please visit janm.org/volunteer
or contact email@example.com or 213.830.5645.