JANM is excited to welcome a new neighbor to its campus. Last fall, following nearly two years of preparation, Go For Broke National Education Center (GFBNEC) took up residence in our Historic Building, located across the plaza from the museum’s main building. Founded in 1989, GFBNEC is dedicated to the legacy of World War II American veterans of Japanese ancestry. For the last several months, they have been hard at work fixing up their new offices and installing a new core exhibition, The Defining Courage Experience.
On the eve of their Homecoming Celebration on May 28—an all-day affair that will include family-friendly activities, food, music, and programs—JANM sat down with GFBNEC’s Exhibit Manager, Chris Brusatte, for a brief interview.
JANM: Why is it so critical for future generations to know the story of Japanese American soldiers during World War II?
Chris Brusatte: History repeats itself. This year’s presidential campaign is just the latest example of why we need to remember our history and why we need to prevent our country from giving in to fear, hatred, and prejudice.
The Japanese Americans of World War II—soldiers, their families, those who protested against the government, and others—all acted with courage in the face of bigotry, injustice, and hatred. They stood up for themselves, for their families, for their communities, and for their country—the United States of America. They proved how wrong it was to treat them so horribly.
This must be taught to all future generations, so that we don’t mistreat Arab or Muslim Americans, LGBT Americans, recent immigrants, or any other group that might far too easily be construed as an “other.” The lessons from this history must prevent similar injustices from happening in the present and in the future.
JANM: What is the significance of setting up your new home in JANM’s Historic Building, the former Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple?
CB: We always tell people that this building is our number one artifact. And that is putting it lightly. The powerful aura that the building holds still takes my breath away. It is an aura tinged with both sadness and remembrance, bittersweet in the way that it symbolizes the history of the Japanese American community in Los Angeles.
As many of your readers might know, the temple was built in 1925 as the first facility in Los Angeles designed specifically to house a Buddhist place of worship. Sadly, during World War II, local Japanese Americans were ordered to assemble outside the temple to be bused away to incarceration camps. The temple held many of these families’ belongings during the war years, keeping them safe until they could return. It still gives me goose bumps to think that generations of kids will get to learn about this powerful and important history in such a sacred place, right where it actually occurred.
JANM: Can you explain the concept and design of your new Defining Courage exhibition?
CB: The Defining Courage Experience is a dynamic, engaging, and participatory exhibition that teaches modern audiences to act with courage and character in their own lives. It does this by teaching them the history of the Japanese American World War II experience and how its message can relate to our world today. Through hands-on activities, both high-tech and tactile, visitors learn about the courage, perseverance, sacrifice, and character of the Japanese American soldiers and others during World War II, and they learn how to apply these virtues and personality traits in their own lives today. Our exhibit design team, Quatrefoil Associates out of Maryland, has done a great job building an extraordinary exhibition that includes activities both historic and modern, action-inducing and thought-provoking.
JANM: Please tell us more about how this new exhibition came together.
CB: This exhibition is the creation of literally a thousand people. Our staff traveled to seven cities around the country in the early stages of concept planning, drawing together scores of people in each community. Once back in Southern California, we convened dozens of scholars, dozens of teachers and educators, and scores of high school and college students.
All of these people helped plan our exhibition from the very beginning—the themes, the content, and how we should lay out each activity. This exhibition truly was created by a village. But mostly, I have to thank my coworkers at Go For Broke and the exhibit design firm of Quatrefoil Associates. This core team was incredible, working with passion and intelligence and creativity to bring this unique exhibition into reality.
JANM: What can we expect from the new interpretive center in the coming months and years?
CB: We hope to keep our exhibits up-to-date using modern news pieces, through a collaborative effort with ABC7 Eyewitness News. Each day that you walk into the exhibition, you will experience something new. In the long run, we hope to bring this exhibition to communities around the country, through some sort of traveling exhibit program. We will also be constantly holding public events, such as lectures and veterans’ programs, in our facilities. We are so thankful as well to the staff at the Japanese American National Museum, who have already been so helpful with collaborative programs and events!
Go For Broke’s Homecoming Celebration takes place this Saturday, May 28, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Event admission is free and no RSVP is necessary. Admission to JANM will be “pay what you wish.” For more information, visit goforbroke.org.