Model of Tule Lake Internment Camp. Photo by M.C.
Model of Tule Lake Internment Camp. Photo by M.C.

Common Ground: The Heart of a Community is an ongoing exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. There is 130 years of Japanese American history from prejudice to concentration camps to Japanese Americans fighting in World War II to show their loyalty.

The Japanese faced prejudice because of people’s ignorance, but it didn’t help that the Chinese came here before them as laborers in the 1800s. The Chinese were eventually pushed out by laws discriminating against them. Only free Caucasians were allowed to naturalize.

Photo by M.C.

The concentration or internment camps used to imprison anyone with Japanese ancestry is a story that hasn’t been talked about enough. From what I understand, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and because of the Ni’ihua Incident, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 to deport all Japanese Americans during World War II. I guess internment camps were considered deportation.

You may have heard George Takei speak about his experience as a child in Los Angeles having his home taken away from him and sent to a camp then another. He also starred in Allegiance a musical that premiered at The Old Globe in San Diego in 2012. I don’t recall being taught about internment camps in school and don’t know where I first heard about them, but Takei and JANM are keeping the stories alive.

Japanese American medals. Photo by M.C.
Japanese American medals. Photo by M.C.

A very nice docent at JANM told me that the Japanese Americans were given a letter that told them to be out of their house in six days and that they could only take a suitcase worth of personal belongings.

It’s a beautiful museum. The suitcases of many Japanese Americans who spent time in a camp are piled up forming a wall. From the second floor, there is an opening that peers over a small library called the Hirasaki National Resource Center where appointments are available to see archives.

Little Tokyo in L.A. Photo by M.C.
Little Tokyo in L.A. Photo by M.C.

The museum is in beautiful Little Tokyo with great Japanese food and stylish clothing shops.

It’s pure coincidence that I publish this now amidst immigration issues. JANM is a great place to stop and reflect to learn from history about past immigrants.

If you go through April you will be able to see the Hello Kitty exhibit. To get more out of the experience visit JANM website to view docents giving mini tours of the museum. General admission for an adult to see Common Ground is $9 and Hello! is $20 for an adult.

Japanese American National Museum, 100 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90012. Phone (213) 625-0414.

Copyright 2014 Melissa Crismon