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Japanese Students Association plans remembrance of internment

​Next week, the newly formed Japanese Students Association and the Student Center for Multicultural Life will pay tribute to the 75th anniversary of Japanese-American internment during World War II. With themes of remembrance and commemoration, the week will focus on a student-created exhibit representing the dehumanization of Japanese Americans and a lecture by Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies Connie Chiang to provide important historical and cultural context to Japanese-American internment.

February 19 marks the 75th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which ordered the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps in response to growing anti-Japanese legislation and racism in the U.S. and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

In years past, events commemorating the Day of Remembrance have been smaller in scale. This year, however, students felt that the event was even more important to mark given the current political climate. 

The Day of Remembrance exhibit will be installed in public spaces such as the dining halls on Bowdoin’s campus. It is based on a similar project by artist Wendy Maruyama on display in the University Art Gallery at San Diego State University. Maruyama created thousands of tags similar to the ones Japanese Americans were forced to wear when taken to the internment camps. The students working on the project were inspired by the striking visual and wanted to recreate it at Bowdoin.

“A travel tag for luggage makes sense but a travel tag for a person is dehumanizing,” said Kiki Nakamura-Koyama ’17, one of the interns at the Student Center for Multicultural Life and an organizer of the project. Organizers plan to install the tags in the dining halls, where they cannot go unnoticed.

As with Maruyama’s work, the approximately 400 travel tags made by students will commemorate the incarcerated Japanese Americans by displaying their names, relocation centers and assigned identification numbers.

Another key part of the commemorations will be Chiang’s talk. Mitsuki Nishimoto ’17, co-president of the Asian Students Association and a leader of the Japanese Students Association, invited Chiang to speak on the event because of her expertise on Japanese incarceration.

“We thought that she would be a great person to not only educate the campus about the history and legacy of that but also to facilitate a conversation of what remembrance means in the present day,” Nishimoto said.

In her talk, Chiang will discuss the broad history behind the Japanese incarceration, highlighting the fact that the incarceration of Japanese Americans during the war was the culmination of years of federal and state-sanctioned anti-Japanese sentiment. She will also talk about the impacts of the incarcerations and the parallels to today’s xenophobia and politics.

“This is not something that happened in just three years, it actually started much earlier and continues to this day,” said Chiang.

“It has had a very long-lasting impact on the Japanese-American community specifically but I think Asian-Americans more broadly,” said Chiang.

In the second half of the program, Chiang will facilitate a discussion. She plans to bring documents, such as a copy of Executive Order 9066 and a “loyalty questionnaire” for attendees to look through and discuss.

Chiang said that she hopes that students of all backgrounds will find the talk interesting, regardless of whether or not they have an immigrant background or have a personal connection to the historical events. 

Nishimoto said that while it has always been important to remember the internment of Japanese Americans, this year it felt particularly pertinent. 

“Remembrance, I think, takes on even greater meaning in this current political climate,” Nishimoto said.

Nishimoto added that President Trump’s recent executive order barring immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and his proposed Muslim registry offered significant parallels to the events of the World War II period.

Chiang plans to touch on the parallels between the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II and Trump’s recent executive order. 

“I think there are real substantive differences but also uncanny parallels as well,” Chiang said.

Nakamura-Koyama hopes that the talk and installation will encourage people to notice the contemporary relevance of the incarcerations. 

“We forget so easily that we had discriminated against an entire people just because they had the ‘face of the enemy,’ she said. “That is the message that I want to get out, remembering that America’s history is not as pure as we’d like to believe and that we’re very vulnerable, in times of fear like right now, to making this mistake again.”

The art installation will be set up on Sunday, February 19, and the lecture will take place the following Wednesday.

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