Thursday, February 19, 2009

Day of Remembrance 2009

Another February 19 brings another Day of Remembrance. We Japanese Americans and friends of civil liberties observe the anniversary of FDR's signing of Executive Order 9066 every year. And every year it seems more people know about the mass imprisonment that the infamous order set off. They even seem to know more details of the sad story. Densho appreciates the citation and mention on this self-described conservative activist's blog. On educating Americans about the full scope of U.S. history, see the conclusion of this recent NPR piece.

If you want to know why the Day of Remembrance remains important to "JAs," here's a good column by Irene Hirano, trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and former president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in LA.

As for the part Seattle and King County played in the commemoration, this webpage sums it up. The photo here is of Seattle's Mayor Charles Royer signing a Day of Remembrance proclamation in 1978. Some of you will recognize the longtime redress activists standing behind him. We in the Pacific Northwest are proud to be among the instigators of the drive to remember, and to demand redress.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Densho Remodel

In recent months, Densho headquarters have been getting a much-needed facelift. With the help of generous donors and contractors, our humble abode is becoming more presentable. We rent an annex -- a former daycare -- from the Seattle Buddhist Betsuin Temple in the Little Saigon neighborhood. Before World War II, this was Nihonmachi, or Japantown. The Buddhist church hosts the Bon Odori festival every summer, whereupon our parking lot turns into an Asahi beer garden.

While our historic location suits our identity, the tiny sinks and toilets that the kiddies left behind did not. And our conference room was an embarrassment when we ushered in visitors, from the modest to the mighty. The walls are now a tasteful taupe; carpet is on the way; and new windows keep out the noise of produce trucks and car alarms.

Eventually we'd like to replace our circa 1980s furniture and well-scuffed floors. (In a continuing link to the community's youth, a pack of boy scouts meet in the building on weekends.) For now, we're feeling much more civilized.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A New Chapter

In a few days, I will leave my position as Director of Technology and Information at Densho to move on to another nonprofit organization. For many people, a job is simply a job. Over the last eight years, I was fortunate to have a job that was much more. My time at Densho has been immensely fulfilling, both intellectually and personally.

Densho's work in documenting the Japanese American community is on the cutting edge of humanities practice. We have delved into issues of memory and collective interpretation in our oral history work, and have examined the tension between immigrant cultures and conceptions of American identity. In the post-9/11 world, the stories of our narrators and the primary sources in the archive provided a stark lesson about the fragility of civil liberties in times of crisis. While not all of these areas of study are new, we have been able to apply technology to both find novel connections within the body of work and to make our materials available to a vastly larger audience than was ever possible before. To play a role in crafting that work was exciting and challenging.

But more important, my job at Densho afforded me a personal journey into my own heritage, a history I had not really explored. When I watch the interviews in the archive, I see the faces of my family, my aunts and uncles, and my mother. I wonder what my grandfather Toru and grandmother Miye thought as they arrived at Tule Lake, younger than my wife and I are today. I never had the chance to ask them; but I am a bit closer to their experience through the stories of our narrators.

Densho was an extraordinary part of my life, and I will always feel gratitude towards the people who made and continue to make the work possible. My thanks to Densho's supporters everywhere -- in the schools, in the community, and across the country. But I owe the most to my family at Densho, all of the talented, dedicated staff members I have known over the years. Virginia, Dana, Patricia, Naoko, and Tom, I will see you again, but will still miss working with you every day.

Thank you again for the opportunity and I look forward to watching the next chapter unfold at Densho.

-- Geoff

Monday, February 2, 2009

A newspaper ends but photos live on

Sad news from Seattle: One of our major daily newspapers is succumbing to the sea change in the media market and the swamping of the economy. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been put up for sale. No one expects a buyer to step forward, and the Hearst owners say they will close the paper down in March.

Apart from liking more rather than less research and reporting, Densho is touched by the P-I's passing because the paper was the source of many striking photos of Japanese Americans being forced by the Army from their homes on Bainbridge Island in March 1942. If you've seen any photos of that sad episode, you've probably seen this one of Fumiko Hayashida carrying her sleeping child Natalie. The little girl is tagged like a bundle of laundry.

In her interview with Densho, Fumi says she wasn't aware of a photographer, being a bit preoccupied. She was worried about how to care for her two small children and a third one on the way. Rumors had it that Manzanar, their destination, was "a Death Valley with scorpions and rattlesnakes." A far cry from the green island home she and more than 200 other Japanese Americans left behind that early spring day. We're grateful the Seattle P-I captured the moment for history.