It was extremely moving to visit the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) on the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, one of the most shameful moments in this country’s history. On February 19, 1942, just two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt drafted an executive order requiring men, women and children of Japanese ancestry to move to relocation camps. A series of civilian exclusion orders were publicly posted all along the West Coast with the title, “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry,” notifying Japanese Americans of their impending forced removal. To commemorate 75 years since the order, JANM is presenting the exhibition “Instructions to All Persons: Reflections on Executive Order 9066,” which features important documents from the National Archives, art by Japanese American artists and performances highlighting current political parallels. Though the exhibition focuses on historical events, its message is clear: we must be very careful never to repeat such a grave injustice.
But this message is actually at the very heart of the museum’s existence. The devastating internment of Japanese Americans is brought vividly to life in the powerful permanent exhibition, "Common Ground: The Heart of Community," that includes reconstructed camp barracks, stacks of suitcases, and dozens of historical documents and photographs. Many of the museum's docents spent part of their childhoods in the camps and share memories of their families’ experiences with visitors. Its board members include actor, activist, director and author George Takei, who as a child was interned at the Tule Lake Segregation Center in Newell, California. He has spoken widely about this tragic experience, its impact on himself and the broader Japanese American community. He has also advocated vigorously against the idea of a Muslim registry and President Donald Trump's executive order, which banned individuals from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the U.S.
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