In memory of the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, Yale will host a “Legacies of Incarceration” symposium this weekend to mark the 75th anniversary of the executive order authorizing internment.

The symposium — co-hosted by both the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration and the Yale Asian American Cultural Center — covers the immigration history of the Japanese-American community and the persecution it faced. It was was also inspired by Courtney Sato’s GRD ’19 thesis project for her master’s degree in public humanities.

Sato’s project, titled “Out of the Desert,” culminated in an exhibition held in Sterling Memorial Library that showcased a fraction of Yale’s extensive collection of materials relating to internment. The symposium will be run by a team of three people, including Sato; Corey Johnson, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford; and Head of Timothy Dwight College Mary Lui, an American Studies professor.

“[Sato]’s exhibit was the first time Yale has made a formal presentation of these materials, which have been in the collection for a long time,” Lui said.

The name “Out of the Desert” comes from a scrapbook that Sato discovered in her research. The scrapbook was a series of letters, an exchange of communication between interned individuals and the outside world. The letters came from camps often located in barren regions and deserts — hence the title, “Out of the Desert.” These internment camps, a consequence of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order, displaced thousands of Japanese-Americans.

Sato found the materials in Yale’s archives and worked with Johnson to design a digital kiosk that allowed visitors to explore with the materials. The pair then turned the interactive kiosk into a website, which serves as an easily accessible platform for people interested in Japanese-American internment. The website offers a number of features, including a gallery of letters and artwork by internees, an interactive map displaying the camp sites with details about them and a guest book where website visitors can leave comments.

This weekend’s symposium represents the closest thing to a physical manifestation of this website — an attempt to expand current knowledge by uniting scholars and community members alike.

Sato referred to the “Out of the Desert” project as the “genesis” of the symposium but said the symposium has expanded to encompass more than she initially anticipated.

“We have people coming from all over,” she said. “People interested because of their family history, curators, archivists, representatives of a number of foundations even.”

Johnson said students and faculty from five other universities are attending as well.

The symposium will run through this weekend and will include a number of speakers and panelists, including community activists, museum specialists and performers who also served on an advisory committee designed to ensure that the information on the website was historically accurate.

There will be nine sessions over the course of the weekend, ranging from a screening and discussion of the film “From a Silk Cocoon” to a panel discussing the significance of the executive order and its impact on modern American history. The sessions are likely to have high attendance. When registration closed, more than 227 people had committed to attend.

“We weren’t sure what the numbers would be,” Lui said. “It’s a really wonderful turnout. There’s enough interest that we might even be strapped for space.”

The overall goal of the weekend, according to the committee, is to create a space that fosters discussion among undergraduates, scholars and community members. One of the performers, Kishi Bashi, an experimental indie pop artist whose latest music addresses immigration history, will also hold a meet and greet for students at the AACC and conduct a musical performance. This will serve as an opportunity for undergraduates unable to attend the symposium to engage in the discussion on an intimate level.

“The most important thing facing the community of people who care about this history and want to steward it is trying to bridge the divide between scholars and people in the community,” Sato said. “They face similar issues, but they don’t communicate. We want to bring these two groups together.”

The symposium kicks off at 9 a.m. on Friday morning in the Jeffrey H. Loria Center for History of Art and ends at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

Madison Mahoney |