This week I decided to visit the Japanese American National Museum in Downtown LA. I had been there once before with my family when I was little, but never on my own. I was speechless.
I think that it’s often easy for me to disassociate with things that have happened in history. It’s easy to forget that things happened at all. But this museum is beautiful, and heartbreaking, reminder.
I started upstairs in their “Common Ground” exhibit which discussed Japanese Americans before WWII. I looked at artifacts and read quotes about the journey on a ship from Japan to California and how many men and women met their spouses only via photographs and letters. And most of all, I read about how everyone moved to this country just seeking a better life, something that people still risk their lives in search of today.
I continued on and read about The Munson Report, conducted by the State Department around the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which stated that Japanese Americans were beyond loyal to the USA and there was no need for military intervention. This reported was kept hidden by the government, and eventually the American Concentration Camps were built.
My heart sank when I looked at the photos of people being rounded up and put on buses, only allowed to bring what they could carry. I teared up when I read about each of the camps and walked through a reconstructed barrack, knowing that both of my grandparents and their families were forced to live in them when they were just a few years younger than I am now. I had no words.
How could people stand by and do nothing? Say nothing? How could people let this happen?
I called my mom after I left, wanting desperately to unpack what I had seen. My grandma passed away before I was old enough to ask her about it and my grandfather doesn’t talk about that time very much. I would imagine it’s hard to revisit. My mom and I chatted about how awful it was, and also how we cannot let it happen again, to any group of people. “Racism and fear runs deep,” she said.
And I know she’s right. I cannot let history repeat itself. I cannot stand by while groups of people are discriminated against. I want so badly to believe that things will work out, but I know that without fighting for justice, nothing will be done.
So if you’re like me and you’ve ever sat in a history class or read a book or gone to a museum and have seen an exhibit like this one and thought to yourself “if I was alive, I would have done something,” now is your time. This is your time. So let’s all do something.