On February 19, 1942, Franklin Roosevelt authorized the mass incarceration of more than 100,000 Japanese-American citizens and residents. To commemorate these individuals, this weekend, the Asian American Cultural Center and the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration hosted a three-day “Legacies of Incarceration” symposium.
The symposium, which ran Thursday through Sunday, marked the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. It consisted of panels, exhibitions and film screenings, and featured speakers ranging from community activists to academics to survivors of incarceration. More than 200 attendees — including students, activists, professors and community members — came to Yale from across the country, some from as far as California. James Sun ’21, who attended the symposium, appreciated the opportunity it gave him to reflect on and discuss the trials faced by many Japanese Americans during World War II.
“[It’s important] to understand people’s stories, what they have been through, and … how their various feelings come together to form a counter narrative against war hysteria,” Sun said.
Courtney Sato GRD ’19, former interim co-director of the AACC and the event’s co-organizer, said its purpose was “to bridge the divide between scholars and the community” by bringing together a diverse group of individuals to discuss the incarceration of Japanese Americans. That divide is one of the most significant challenges faced by those who work in this field, she added.
Sato has researched and done extensive work related to the topic of Japanese-American incarceration; in fact, the symposium was a continuation of a project in which she compiled objects and materials from the period of Japanese-American incarceration from across Yale’s libraries and created an exhibit. The goal of the project was “to disseminate and interpret wartime Japanese-American history” and to make “this history as accessible and as of interest as possible,” Sato told the News. Her work was preserved digitally on the Out of the Desert website.
The symposium was divided into nine sessions, each of which featured different speakers and examined at incarceration through a different lens. One session addressed the displacement of Native Americans caused by the creation of concentration camps. In another, survivor Sam Mihara likened the circumstances he faced before his own incarceration to those faced by today’s Middle Eastern-Americans, especially the proposal of mandatory registration.
The sessions shared an attention to “how the narrative is being told and what narrative we choose to produce” when discussing Japanese-American incarceration, said conference staffer Mariko Rooks ’21, an undergraduate coordinator for the AACC and a member of the Legacies of Incarceration planning committee. Specifically, she noted the need to challenge the idea that the “mistake” of Executive Order 9066 can be attributed to an overabundance of patriotism.
Beyond these nine sessions, the weekend’s events included opportunities for symposium attendees to talk with students at the AACC, a viewing of Yale’s WWII Japanese-American archival materials and a tour of the “Self-Interned 1942: Noguchi in Poston War Relocation Center” exhibit at the Noguchi Museum in New York.
The symposium is one of many recent initiatives across the nation to increase recognition of Japanese-American incarceration. Indie rock singer Kishi Bashi, who performed at the AACC last Friday, plans to hold two concerts later this month to commemorate the anniversary of Roosevelt’s executive order. Mihara commended a recent movement to rebuild and memorialize the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, the camp in which he was held.
With much of the work around Japanese-American incarceration occurring on the West Coast, where relocation occurred, Sato said she hopes the symposium raises awareness of work being done in the East Coast and of the “large but largely unknown collection” of Japanese-American incarceration materials in New Haven.
The AACC was established in 1981.
Niki Anderson | firstname.lastname@example.org