Only the Oaks Remain is an Especially Relevant Display Right Now

Bunk room at Tuna Canyon Detention Station. Photo courtesy of the Merrill H. Scott Family.

Over the weekend, JANM opened a new special display, Only the Oaks Remain: The Story of Tuna Canyon Detention Station. Organized by a grassroots group called the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, the display tells the true stories of those targeted as dangerous enemy aliens and imprisoned in the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, located in the Tujunga neighborhood of Los Angeles, by the US Department of Justice during World War II. The detainees included Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants who were considered spiritual, educational, and business leaders in their communities, along with Japanese and other individuals who had previously been forcibly removed from Latin America.

As noted by Hyperallergic magazine, this display is especially relevant right now, in light of some current political rhetoric that favors creating a database of all Muslim Americans in response to terrorist threats. The public hysteria that has led to the targeting of millions of innocent Muslim Americans is eerily similar to the WWII hysteria that quickly led to the incarceration, without due process, of 120,000 people of Japanese descent—most of whom were American citizens, and all of whom were innocent of any crimes.

Thanks to the Japanese American Redress Movement, the US government formally apologized for its actions during WWII, admitting that they were “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” As part of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, monetary compensation was awarded to each family that was incarcerated. Because of these official actions, Japanese Americans and others felt that the incident had been sufficiently exposed and denounced in the public arena.

A guard in a control room at Tuna Canyon. Photo courtesy of the Merrill H. Scott Family.

Just this past week, however, a Los Angeles Times article exploring the history lessons offered by various national parks, including the Tule Lake Unit and Manzanar National Historic Site, was met with two letters published in the newspaper’s travel section insisting that the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans was entirely justified. The publication of the letters caused an uproar, particularly among the Japanese American community—this was addressed by the Times via their Readers’ Representative Journal blog. Former JANM staffer Koji Steven Sakai also appeared on KPCC’s Take Two show on December 14, explaining to listeners why the letters were so offensive to his community, and offering some historical context.

The Japanese American National Museum is committed to sharing the history of Japanese Americans in order to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity. An important focus of this mission is ensuring that what happened to this group of individuals during WWII never happens again, to any other group of people.

In addition to Only the Oaks Remain, on view through April 9, the museum is currently featuring Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II, on view through January 8, as well as the ongoing exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community, which traces 130 years of Japanese American history.

Commemorating 25 Years of the Civil Liberties Act

Gift of Norman Y. Mineta, Japanese American National Museum (96.370.16A)Gift of Norman Y. Mineta, Japanese American National Museum (96.370.16A)

There is a lot happening at JANM today, but we first wanted to take some time to remember that August 10, 1988 is the day that President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act. This Act offered an apology and granted redress and reparations to the over 110,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated during World War II.

The signing of the Civil Liberties Act was the result of a lot of hard work from many, many individuals and groups around the nation. The government’s formal acknowledgement of the unjust incarceration remains a major milestone in the history of not just the Japanese American community, but within the history of the United States.

To reflect upon this event, last month JANM hosted a national conference in Seattle themed, Speaking Up! Democracy, Justice, Dignity. A modified version of one of the panel sessions that took place in Seattle will also be happening today in Little Tokyo! If you have a chance, please drop by the DISKovery Center this afternoon to see selected video clips related to the Civil Liberties Act, including the powerful testimonials from the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Interment of Civilians (CWRIC) hearings that took place in Los Angeles. These free screenings are being put together by Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress and a full schedule is available here.

Hope that you’re able to take a moment today to reflect on the Civil Liberties Act and the impact that it (and World War II) had on the lives of so many. And thank you to all of those who—in ways big and small—worked to ensure that the United States is taking steps to becoming “a more perfect union.”


P.S. We are slowly making our way through the many photos from the conference and will be sharing more online soon!