For more than 40 years, historians and archivists at California State University, Dominguez Hills have been gathering materials documenting the lives of Japanese Americans in the South Bay and Los Angeles. Consisting of photographs, yearbooks, and artwork, as well as documents such as letters and property leases, “Building Evidence: Japanese Americans in Southern California During Mid-Century – 40 Years of Collecting, An Exhibition” —on view now through March 2012—focuses on the lives and obstacles faced by Japanese Americans in the South Bay and Los Angeles prior to, during, and after World War II.
Topics covered in the materials collected include the location of Japanese American tenant farmer families on Dominguez/Rancho San Pedro lands before World War II and the removal of those families after Pearl Harbor; the mass evacuation of citizens and incarceration in concentration camps such as at Manzanar in California and Granada, Colorado; and letters from various Japanese Americans searching for jobs and places to live after the camps were closed. Several of the recently rescued Ninomiya Studio photographs show Japanese American life in the 1950s. In addition, the exhibition features the artwork of Mary Higuchi, Henry Fukahara, and H. Takata, as well as a scale model of a camp barracks made by former Torrance resident Min Sueda.
There are two talks related to the World War II component of “Building Evidence.” On Nov. 29, emeritus professor of history Donald T. Hata will speak on the issues surrounding the incarceration of Japanese Americans in the exhibition and in the fourth edition of his book, “Japanese Americans and World War II — Mass Removal, Imprisonment, and Redress” (with Nadine Ishitani Hata). He will speak on Nov. 29 at 4 p.m. Mitch Maki, acting provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, will speak on the Japanese American redress movement and its meaning for all Americans on Feb. 16, 2012, at 3 p.m. Both events will take place at the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room on the fifth floor of the south wing of the University Library.
Greg Williams, director of Archives and Special Collections at CSU Dominguez Hills, says that the exhibition connects the national injustice of Japanese American incarceration during WWII to events of similar outrage that took place locally.
“Many South Bay families were kicked off Rancho San Pedro lands that they had cultivated for a generation,” he says. “Our research has been able to map out where specific families lived on Rancho lands in the 1930s.
“The preservation of newsletters, photographs, and recently donated letters ensures that students will have access to new sources for today’s students to study from their own generational point of view,” Williams continues. “While the exhibition documents an enormous outrage against the rights of Japanese American citizens, it can also be viewed in the context of civil rights after 9-11 and the most recent laws against immigration in Arizona and Alabama. The purpose of this exhibition is to show students the relationship of the past to the present and how democratic principles are always at risk.”