Personal collections are a critical component of Densho’s archives. These collections, donated by families and individuals, provide amazing insights into Japanese American history that might otherwise be forgotten, while allowing educators, researchers and the general public to see the past through the eyes of everyday families. Even though our staff has been working from home for the last several months, Densho’s collections team is still actively expanding our digital archives. Browse through these recent highlights, and then head over to the Densho Digital Repository for more — you may even find some familiar faces!
It is one of the most poignant—and often told—stories of the WWII roundup and incarceration of Japanese Americans: the wrenching decision that had to be made about a beloved pet as families were being forced to leave their homes in the spring of 1942. Unable to take the pet with them, the family has to leave it behind in the care of friends, neighbors, or strangers. In most cases, the family never sees the pet again.
Lane Ryo Hirabayashi was an innovator in the field of Asian American Studies, a historian and storyteller who dedicated his life to deepening public knowledge of Japanese American WWII incarceration, and a mentor to generations of students. In this touching tribute, Densho Content Director (and longtime friend) Brian Niiya describes Lane’s incredible life and impact.
On this anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 we’re highlighting some recent additions to Densho’s archives that focus on the Redress Movement. Along with our existing digital content, these new collections together provide more information and context to the Japanese American communities’ decades-long struggle for redress. As we look to today’s growing conversations around reparations, we hope these stories can provide useful insight to how the Japanese American community fought for, and won, redress.
The Amache concentration camp in southeastern Colorado was, in many ways, similar to other War Relocation Authority camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II: rural and rugged, hastily constructed against the wishes of the surrounding community, prone to dust storms and harsh weather. But one thing that was unique to Amache was its successful silk screen shop, run almost entirely by Japanese American incarcerees.
Tule Lake began as one of ten concentration camps that held Japanese Americans forcibly removed from the West Coast in 1942. Early experiences there were, in many ways, much like that at other camps. But in July 1943, Tule Lake became a “segregation center” for Japanese Americans who had refused to give unqualified “yes” responses to the infamous loyalty questionnaire. Overcrowding, labor disputes, increased militarization, and other conditions led to unrest, and eventually over 5,000 Tule Lake inmates renounced their U.S. citizenship.
In this guest post, scholar and Soto Zen Buddhist priest Duncan Ryūken Williams reflects on celebrating his first 4th of July as an American citizen in the midst of a global pandemic and uprisings against anti-Black police brutality. He illustrates how the concept of interconnectedness can illuminate our understandings of history and various forms of oppression, but also guide our collective work towards liberation.
Guest post by Sara Onitsuka
The last few weeks of protest, sparked by the murder of George Floyd and rising out of 400+ years of slavery, genocide, and other white supremacist and anti-Black violence, have shattered previous ideas of what we thought was possible. More than a dozen cities across the country have proposed to cut some funding from police, and Minneapolis, where the protests began and continue with strength, has taken it a step further by voting to disband the police department. This is a time where we have been called to urgently continue learning and expanding our own political understanding and practices.
As we uplift the achievements and ongoing struggles of LGBTQ communities this Pride season—which, friendly reminder, exists because Black trans women rioted against police violence—we want to highlight the stories of the queer ancestors within our own Japanese American community. Despite the often deliberate erasure of their contributions to our history, and the underrepresentation of queer and trans voices in archives (including our own), we know that LGBTQ history is Japanese American history.
We may not be able to come together in person anytime soon, but you can rest assured that we’re working hard to expand our digital offerings and create virtual gathering spaces to stay connected to you, our Densho community. Here’s a list of upcoming and ongoing digital events offered by Densho and other community partners. We’ll continue to update this calendar as we add new programming, so make sure to come back to check out the latest!
- after camp
- book review
- camp life
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- guest post
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- open letter
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture