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"American Tapestry" Exhibition Tells 25 Stories through Collected Objects, Art

LOS ANGELES, CA.- As part of its celebration of its 25th Anniversary since its incorporation, the Japanese American National Museum unveiled its latest exhibition, American Tapestry: 25 Stories from the Collection, on Saturday, November 13.

The National Museum, since its founding in 1985 and its public opening in 1992, has developed the world’s largest collection of Japanese American objects, including artifacts, photographs, documents, oral histories and works of art. Of the more than 80,000 pieces in its collection, the National Museum will highlight 25 stories connected to objects as part of its anniversary year.

"Museums use artifacts and objects to convey history in a very personal way to their visitors," explained Akemi Kikumura Yano, President & CEO of the National Museum. "Using 25 selected pieces from our permanent collection, this exhibition reveals that Japanese American history is more than a century in length and continues to evolve, becoming increasingly diverse. It makes clear that seemingly ordinary people do extraordinary things. It also clarifies that our stories are intertwined with other communities and remain an integral part of U.S. history."

Among the objects featured are two diaries, a bicycle, a handful of marbles, a certificate of naturalization, two magazine articles written during World War II, paintings, a wooden bathtub and a skateboard. Some items were donated by well-known individuals, such as former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta’s redress papers and actor George Takei’s "Star Trek" uniform. Most importantly, each piece tells a story that illuminates Japanese American history.

The diaries are examples of the contrasting experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II. Gordon Hirabayashi grew up in the Seattle area and became a Quaker. He deliberately resisted the government’s curfew restrictions on Japanese Americans with the goal of taking his case to court, where he believed he would prevail. But the Supreme Court ruled against him in 1943. Stanley Hayami was a teenager when the government forcibly removed his family and they were incarcerated in the Heart Mountain, Wyoming concentration camp. Hayami’s diary provides insight to life in camp. Ultimately, Hayami joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and is killed in Italy when he is 19 years old.

Common objects like marbles and a bicycle have very personal stories with long histories. Yoshino Uyemara had a Schwinn bicycle as a young girl, but was forced to leave it when her family went to camp. The bicycle was left in the care of Uyemara’s friend, Alice Blueian, with the thought that she would return it to Yoshino when her family returned. The families lost touch with each other, yet Alice steadfastly refused to abandon the bicycle. In 2003, Blueian finally was able to contact Uyemara (now known as Elaine Otomo) and return the bicycle after more than 60 years.

When Toru Saito and his family were sent to the camp at Topaz, Utah, he had a set of marbles. At one point, he buried them at the campsite. His family returned to the West Coast, but Saito never forgot about his buried treasure. Years later, he returned to Utah and was able to dig up the lost marbles. As Saito reflected, returning to Topaz was "going back to pay respects to those people were left behind. You just can’t turn your back on people who didn’t make it."

This exhibition was curated by National Museum Director of Programs Clement Hanami. The show runs through April 17, 2011.

Japanese American National Museum | "American Tapestry" | Clement Hanami |

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