Visible & Invisible Through a Student’s Eyes


Growing up in Southern California as a person of Japanese descent, JANM has played a large role in helping me discover my cultural identity. Each exhibit that I have immersed myself in has, in one way or another, done an excellent job of captivating me while still teaching me about my Japanese American heritage. Out of all the exhibits that I have seen, the museum’s newest installment Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History has been one of the most personally intriguing because it delves into the deep history of mixed-race and hapa individuals within the United States. Being half Japanese and half Caucasian myself, I found Visible & Invisible to be very relatable to my life.

As I walked through the exhibit, a few pieces that really piqued my interest, including an anti-Japanese campaign poster for California Senator James D. Phelan that revealed the prejudice and discrimination  Japanese Americans faced more than two decades before World War II. Another intriguing part of the exhibit was an article from Ebony magazine that highlighted the troubles endured by children of American soldiers and Japanese women. Although I can’t entirely relate to those children due to the fact that being hapa hasn’t been detrimental to me at all, I realize now that life for some mixed race children, both in Japan and in the United States following World War II, was not easy.

Basketball has played a huge role in my life. Up until this past year I had been spending the majority of my weekends either at practices or games for my team, the Venice Lakers. Seeing the different Venice jerseys and pictures of multiple teams, a few of which I recognized, brought back many fond memories of my time playing Japanese American basketball. It was easily my favorite part of the exhibit. JA basketball helps expose children to not only the sport of basketball, but to different aspects of Japanese culture. If you ask a child of Japanese descent if he plays basketball, there’s a high likelihood that he or she will say yes, or will know somebody who does.

Another facet of the exhibit that interested me was Virgil Westdale, a half Japanese, half Caucasian soldier forced to switch his name from Nishimura to Westdale so he could join the armed forces. After the United States Army Air Corps found out about Westdale’s background they demoted him to private, stripped him of his pilot’s license, and sent him to Camp Shelby in Mississippi to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The accompanying video helped me delve deeper into Westdale’s personal account of what life was like for him as a mixed-race member of the 442nd and as an American of Japanese heritage during World War II.

Lastly, this exhibit wouldn’t feel like a JANM exhibit without a compelling interactive component. I very much enjoyed the interactive aspects of last year’s XLAB 2012, however, the black journal experiment in Visible & Invisible has become my favorite, mainly because of the personal touch each participant can add. It’s absolutely amazing to see the artistic skills and personal messages from people as far north as Eugene, Oregon, to people who have lived in Boyle Heights since 1944.

Ultimately I would have to say that the main reason that Visible & Invisible initially appealed to me was because I am mixed-race. However, walking through the exhibit I realized that the exhibit wasn’t so much about being hapa as it was about the Japanese American experience. Visible & Invisible runs the gamut in terms of Japanese and mixed race culture within the United States by giving an informative, yet enthralling, look at nearly 300 years of history. I highly recommend coming to the JANM to check this exhibit out before it ends on August 25th.

Writer Jeremy Parks is a 17 year old high school senior who attends Campbell Hall High School in Studio City. He is an editor on his school’s newspaper. He is volunteering this summer with the museum’s Watase Media Arts Center.

XLAB From a Teenagers Point of View


Sometimes, when I visit museums, the exhibits tend to lack substance and are most of the time, very similar. After walking through and reflecting on the material, I don’t feel like I’ve gained anything. It feels as if something is lacking. Xploration Lab 2012 (XLAB) fulfills every need and want in an exhibit and more. XLAB is an innovative museum experience where participants are fully immersed in each aspect of the display, and through their participation, aid in the creation of future engaging exhibitions for the Japanese American National Museum (JANM).

XLAB’s main focus is to educate visitors on the importance of culture and identity, and how sometimes, those two concepts are one in the same. In modern America, the teenage demographic, while seemingly hard to understand, is actually not so much of an enigma as many people are led to believe. They are on the precipice of adulthood and are beginning to stray away from their normal routine to engage in new experiences. XLAB is the perfect exhibit for any teenager because the subject matter is broad enough to entice them, yet specific enough to be relatable. In addition, teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and that is essentially what XLAB is all about. The interactive aspect of this exhibit adds a whole new dimension to the clichéd museum experience and makes it more effective in delivering its message.

As I walked into XLAB, I instantly realized that this exhibit would be unlike any other museum experience I had previously encountered. Since I’m a half Caucasian and half Japanese teenager, the first section that really caught my eye was What Are You? Each person who participated in Kip Fulbeck’s project had words to say that I could relate to as a teenager and as a person of multiple cultural backgrounds. Although the rest of the first room was wonderful and educational, the placement of My Voice is a Microphone made the activity somewhat easy to miss for people who weren’t paying attention to the layout.

The next room contained a lot more interaction and each section had content that would attract teenagers. One of XLAB’s more popular portions is Ways to Tell if You’re Japanese American. Even though the list was written from a Southern California Sansei and Yonsei perspective, almost every local Japanese American teenager can relate to at least a few numbers on the list. A common high school student would certainly enjoy two of the last activities: Pidgin and Express Yourself. Pidgin is a dialect that is the unofficial language of Hawaii. XLAB has taken this idea and added modern internet slang such as LOL, FTW, and ROFL, which has made it much more relatable for teenagers, while still infusing the cultural Hawaiian roots into the activity.

Express Yourself is another ingenious portion that focuses on how expression through what people wear is becoming more and more prominent. The section is composed of a large whiteboard where visitors could design their own shirts using dry erase markers, and magnets. Surrounding the white board are completed t-shirts that aid in the expression of ones culture and identity. The interaction involved in this activity helped make it one the most popular activities that XLAB had to offer.

Each and every activity had a successful way of delivering the overall message of culture and identity. People of all ages would enjoy this exhibit because of everything it has to offer. The interaction of each activity sets XLAB apart from the plethora of boring and formulaic exhibits that most teenagers are accustomed to. In essence, this exhibit is not one to miss, and everyone should take some time out of his or her day to experience what XLAB has to offer, before it closes on August 26th.

Writer Jeremy Parks, a summer intern at JANM, will be in 11th grade this coming fall at Campbell Hall High School located in Studio City. He will be a news editor on his school paper and is an offensive lineman on the football team.

Volunteer Docent Sergio Holguin

For many people who visit the Museum, the highlight of their visit is often getting a tour from one of our many dedicated volunteer docents. Many of our docents share their own or their family’s first-hand experiences from World War II. However, as our older Nisei volunteers have slowed down a bit, the demand for docents is being increasingly met by those whose families were not incarcerated in America’s concentration camps.

Photo by Richard Watanabe

Although their experiences aren’t first-hand, their being there to share the Japanese American experience with our visitors is very important, and in some ways may even help non-JA visitor relate more with the stories.

One of our younger docents is Sergio Holguin, a computer science major at Cal Poly Pomona. Sergio is a third-generation Mexican American. He recently wrote a wonderful article for our Discover Nikkei website that shares how he became interested in Japanese American history, and why he decided to volunteer at the Museum.

Nisei? Sansei? No, I’m just a Gakusei
By Sergio Holguin
Read his article >>


P.S. Here’s a 2009 article on Discover Nikkei about another non-JA Museum docent—Nahan Gluck:

The History of Japanese Americans from the Perspective of a German American: Mr. Nahan Gluck, docent for the Japanese American National Museum