Exhibition Japanese American Pride and Shame opens in Seattle on July 7, 1970.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 11/19/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3635
On July 7, 1970, the exhibition Japanese American Pride and Shame opens at MOHAI (Seattle's Museum of History & Industry). This pathbreaking exhibit includes photographs and artifacts that tell "a compressed history of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest." Viewed by more than 34,000 people, it marks the beginning of a shift in consciousness in the Japanese American community and in other communities, toward pride in Japanese American heritage and toward the idea of redress for the unjust imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Visual Testimony

The exhibit included photographs of Issei (first generation) railroad, dairy, and cannery workers, newspaper clippings and cartoons about the "yellow peril" illustrating the legacy of racism against Asians, and photographs and artifacts recalling the internment of West Coast Japanese Americans during World War II, following Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. There was a full-scale mock-up of the interior of the concentration camp barracks where Japanese Americans from Seattle and elsewhere were forced to live.

A leading organizer of the exhibition was Tomio Moriguchi, owner of Uwajimaya, the Asian food and import store. Moriguchi was chair of the Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Other participants represented the Nisei Veterans Committee, the Boy Scouts, the Rokka Ski Club, and the Asian Coalition for Equality.

From Silence and Shame to Pride

The exhibit was open until September 7, 1970. Following that it became a traveling exhibit, and was accompanied by panels, discussions, and personal testimony by community members about what had happened to them during the war. Before this the subject had been shrouded in silence and shame in the Japanese American community. Outside that community, much ignorance and prejudice remained.

As Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro writes in Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress, the exhibit

 

"was the community's first step toward exposing what most felt to be a painful personal experience very rarely displayed to their own children, let alone to the general public. A pool of speakers willing and able to talk about their World War II experiences had been identified and trained. And the positive responses these panelists received from the largely non-Nikkei audiences would embolden others."

Sources: Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro, Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 4-8,10-12.

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