Producing Japanese American History

We published a wonderful series of five articles by Dean Ryuta Adachi on our DiscoverNikkei.org site about various artifacts from JANM’s permanent collection. Dean is a PhD candidate in American History at Claremont Graduate University and is an active volunteer at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. I “met” him through the Discover Nikkei Twitter account several years ago and have kept in touch. When he found out that he would be down in Los Angeles last fall to be a lecturer of Asian American Studies at Harvey Mudd College, he offered to come in as a volunteer during his spare time.

Namyo Bessho
Gift of Indiana Bessho (92.81.2)

Dean worked with Programs, Discover Nikkei, and Collections staff to go through some of the little-known collections in our archives, and then share about them through Discover Nikkei. Here are links to the five articles in the “Producing Japanese American History: An exploration through the JANM archives” series. They include images of various artifacts from the collections.

Part 1 – History is Made: Namyo Bessho
Did you know that there was an Issei in the US Navy during the Spanish-American War?

Learn about how Namyo Bessho became a citizen in 1919 and then had it taken away >>

1948 article from Copenhagen, Denmark about John Nitta and chick sexing

Part 2 – History is Told: S. John Nitta

John Nitta played a significant role in the establishment of the chick sexing industry in the United States, but as Dean looked past the many awards in his collection, he found “plenty of unrelated hidden gems.”

Learn about his story >>

 

 

Estelle Ishigo
Gift of Mary Ruth Blackburn (2000.103.12)

Part 3 – History is Ignored: Estelle Ishigo
Estelle Ishigo was a Caucasian artist who went with her Nisei husband to Heart Mountain in Wyoming during World War II. She authored the book Lone Heart Mountain which included the drawings she did while in camp. She was the subject of Steven Okazaki’s Academy Award winning film Days of Waiting (1990). Yet, most of what we know is about her art. Dean’s exploration of JANM’s collection revealed artifacts that shared aspects about her personal life, and especially her deep love for her husband Arthur.

Read Estelle’s story >>

MacWilliamson radio
Gift of Joyce MacWilliamson (2001.120.1)

Part 4 – History is Lost: Joyce MacWilliamson

You may recognize the radio in part 4 from the American Tapestry exhibition. It is a beautiful shortwave radio, with a mysterious past that will most likely never be known. Left with Ramon “Mac” MacWilliamson by a Japanese American friend during World War II, he and his daughter always hoped to be able to return it the original owners after the war. After the story was posted on Discover Nikkei, Joyce MacWilliamson, the person who donated the radio to the museum, posted a comment, “Thank you for keeping hope alive that the rightful owner or his family will be found.”

Learn about her search and why she decided to donate the radio to JANM >>

Letter from Pvt. Masao Shigezane
Gift of Jane Van Blaricom (2001.72.58)

Part 5 – History is Found: Sumi and Masao Shigezane

The final part of the series ended with a surprising connection to a UCLA student’s project on Discover Nikkei. His search through JANM’s archives started with James G. Lindley, project director of the Amache camp during WWII, and led to the Shigezane family.

Read about this emotional journey >>

Dean Ryuta Adachi

I’d like to thank Dean for his work on unearthing and sharing these amazing stories. Many thanks also to Patricia Wakida who initiated this project, Yoko Nishimura for working so hard to get the stories online, and to JANM’s collections staff (Nikki Chang, Tomi Yoshikawa, Jane Nakasako, and Yoko Shimojo) for all their help in providing access and working with Dean during his time at JANM. Our CMA staff are the unsung heroes that work really hard behind-the-scenes at JANM!

Vicky Murakami-Tsuda

Communications Production Manager at the Japanese American National Museum. I coordinate printed publications, manage web-based projects, and lots of other stuff. I also write an occasional column for our DiscoverNikkei.org project.

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