On the day of his expected college graduation, Yonekazu Satoda was taken to a Japanese internment camp.
In his diary, Satoda wrote, “Today was supposed to be my graduation from Cal.” Dated May 15, 1942, the entry is a prelude to nearly three years of internment. Satoda’s diary, along with roughly 100 other materials from Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library and Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, compose “Out of the Desert,” the first student-curated exhibition at Yale to feature Japanese internment materials from both libraries. The show includes photographs, posters, newspapers and correspondence from the Japanese internment period during World War II, during which time over 127,000 United States citizens of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned in internment camps. Courtney Sato GRD ’19, who curated “Out of the Desert,” said it is the first exhibit at Yale to be entirely devoted to Asian-American history.
“The exhibit demonstrates that not only students should be interested in what’s here at Yale, but Asian-American scholars should be interested in what’s here as well,” Sato said. “In a place that could have a much more robust Asian American Studies program, Yale actually has a rich history to support that area.”
Timothy Dwight Master Mary Lui, who teaches a course on Asian-American history, said the process of organizing the exhibit began more than three years ago, when Sato started cataloguing any materials in Yale library collections that related to Japanese internment in the United States during WWII.
Sato highlighted Satoda’s diary, which was acquired by Beinecke curator George Miles, as one of the exhibition’s most important pieces. She noted that Satoda, now 94 years old, is one of few Japanese-American internees still alive today. Lui said other key works in the exhibition include the original posters produced within the camps.
Through her research, Sato said she discovered that a large portion of the materials included in the exhibition were the result of a 1940s correspondence between then-Stanford librarian Nathan Van Patten and librarian James Babb at Yale.
“Van Patten kept stressing in his correspondence how important it was that Yale hold on to these materials,” Sato explained. “He said he saw this as being one of the largest collections on the East Coast and I think it’s amazing how someone was collecting something that important during that time.”
A formal opening reception for “Out of the Desert” took place Thursday afternoon. Columbia International and Public Affairs professor Gary Okihiro, who recently made a 2,000-book donation to Yale’s Asian American Cultural Center, delivered opening remarks to an assembled crowd that included Satoda himself. Miles, who also attended the event, said he hopes the exhibit will increase the visibility of Yale’s collections of materials related to Japanese-American internment, as well as encourage both students and faculty to pursue research related to the Japanese-American community.
“Many of the materials that the students see in the exhibit, if they’ve taken or are taking the Asian-American history class, they will have encountered them before in some form,” Lui said. “Hopefully some of that will come to light much more when they see it themselves, and I hope it will spark some interest in digging into the history more deeply rather than just doing the assigned reading in the class.”
“Out of the Desert” will remain on view through February 2016.