Taking an opportunity to honor Japanese history and culture, Cascadia Art Museum on Sunday hosted a Day of Remembrance marking the 80th anniversary of Presidential Executive Order 9066, which ordered the incarceration of more than 100,000 people of Japanese American descent during World War II.
The U.S. presidential executive order was signed and issued during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942. It cleared the way for the incarceration of nearly all 120,000 Japanese Americans during the war. Two-thirds of them were U.S. citizens, born and raised in the U.S.
Alaska’s Aleutian Islands also have an Executive Order (EO) 9066 history unknown to many. Almost 1,000 Indigenous Alaskan Aleut people were forced to leave their homes and businesses because the Aleutian Islands were considered a combat zone. They were allowed to take one suitcase, herded onto boats and their villages burned to the ground in an attempt to stop Japanese soldiers from using them for housing. It is estimated that 10% of Aleuts died in the camps, never seeing their homes again.
Washington was the first state to observe a Day of Remembrance, in 1978, and officially recognized it in 2003. Since then, the day has become a time to reflect, remember and honor those whose lives were shattered by what President Joe Biden called in his Feb. 18 Day of Remembrance proclamation “one of the most shameful chapters in our nation’s history.”
Sunday’s full-day event drew over 375 people who learned about Japanese culture from Washington-based writers, performers, artists and musicians. It also marked the end of Kenjiro Nomura’s exhibit at the museum, which showcased the Japanese American artist’s work throughout his life. These included his early works focusing on Seattle’s urban environment and rural Northwest landscapes, to paintings and drawings capturing his life in World War II internment camps, and post-war abstractions fully demonstrating Nomura’s artistic stylistic and professional growth.
Cascadia Curator David Martin welcomed the crowd and explained that he had been on a mission since 1986 to get an exhibition of Nomura that included artwork outside of internment works. “I restored several of his works and became very interested because I thought it looked like museum quality work – and yet everywhere I went no one seemed to know who he was,” said Martin, who who restored the Nomura painting Gymnasium.
“We wanted to commemorate the ending of this exhibition, as well as commemorating the signing of EO 9066 when Japanese Americans began to be incarcerated during World War II,” said Cascadia Art Museum Executive Director Sally Ralston.“We are honoring and educating people about Japanese history and Japanese Americans while exposing them to the amazing and rich heritage of Japanese culture.”
Historian and author Barbara Johns has spent the last 15 years writing about the immigrant generation of Seattle’s Japanese-American artists, and she was on hand to sign copies of her book, Kenjiro Nomura, An Issei Artist’s Journey. “It’s Nomura along with two others that I’ve written about (the others are Paul Horiuchi and Kamekichi Tokita),” she said. “All of my subjects left records during World War II of their experiences. Nomura left close to 100 paintings and drawings. The others left diaries. Nomura is only one of the three to have returned home, survived and reestablish recognition.”
Added Johns: “It’s been a gift of a lifetime to do what I’m doing right now.”
Vince Schleitwiler, a fourth-generation Japanese American and Univeristy of Washington lecturer, talked about Japanese history and related issues in his lecture, “The Future was Already Here: Lost and Found Visions of Japanese Americans before the War.”
Schleitwiler, author of Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific: Imperialism’s Racial Justice and It’s Fugitives, said, “This is an important anniversary for us to mark because we are fortunate to have with us many surviving members of the internment camps. But this anniversary is also important because the remembrance of these camps has never felt so alive and so tangible and so full of danger as it has in the past few years.”
Performances and classes on Sunday included the UV Performing Arts dance group Koto Musicians, Haiku poetry writing, Japanese calligraphy by the Meito Shodo-Kai Calligraphy Association, taiko drumming with Chikiri and team from the School of Taiko, flower arranging by Ikebana International, poetry reading from EPIC Poets, a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony by Chado Urasenke Tankokai Association and origami making.
— Story and photos by Misha Carter