From February 17, 2018, through March 18, 2018, Oberlin College and Conservatory will host the national traveling exhibition, “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American WWII Experience.” Planned by the Go For Broke National Education Center (GFBNEC) and funded in part by a grant from the National Parks Service, this professionally designed and interactive exhibit chronicles the national story of the Japanese American experience during WWII and local stories of compassion in support of Japanese Americans from communities across the country.
In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, many officials and community members viewed residents of Japanese ancestry, U.S. citizens and immigrants alike, with fear and mistrust. Japanese Americans were targeted for harassment and discrimination, and families on the West Coast were forcibly removed to government-run incarceration camps.
The “Courage and Compassion” exhibit covers events from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the fateful decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans in wartime camps to the postwar fight for redress. It also brings alive the local stories of communities like Oberlin, Ohio that showed courage and compassion to Japanese Americans who were suspected of disloyalty solely because of their ancestry.
Oberlin was selected as one of the 10 cities to host the exhibit because the College and Conservatory recruited and admitted nearly 40 Japanese American students during the war, city residents defended the students when their presence was questioned, and Nisei (second generation Japanese American) students here spoke out and organized against racism and wartime discrimination. The exhibit places this story of Oberlin’s response to incarceration in the broader context of Oberlin’s history of activism and current debates around sanctuary cities and campuses.
Visitors to “Courage and Compassion” will have the opportunity to learn about the history of incarceration and the Japanese American World War II experience, and its legacy. Visitors will be able to engage with questions about what courage looks like during a time of crisis and to consider the relevance of this history for today. “This exhibit reminds us of a history that is extraordinarily relevant today,” Renee Romano, the Robert. S. Danforth Professor of History at Oberlin College and project co-director explained. “It offers us stories of local people who rejected wartime hysteria about Japanese Americans and who insisted that the United States live up to its democratic ideals. Today as the nation again debates issues of immigration, citizenship, and belonging, it is vital that we grapple with America’s checkered history of exclusion.”
Mitchell T. Maki, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of GFBNEC, noted that Oberlin’s strong history of social justice advocacy reflects the legacy of Japanese American WWII veterans. “The Nisei veterans championed the rights and duties of citizenship, the importance of due process and the rule of law in our democracy,” Dr. Maki said. “They taught us that we cannot tolerate discrimination against individuals based on the color of their skin, the God whom they worship, the person whom they choose to love, or their country of origin. They exemplify the best that America has to offer.”
From July 2017 through summer 2019, the exhibit will visit 10 U.S. communities where citizens extended a helping hand to Japanese Americans during and after the turbulent days of WWII. Besides Oberlin, other community partners include Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai′i, Honolulu, Kahului, and Hilo, Hawaii; the Kingsburg Historical Society, Kingsburg, Calif.; St. Mary’s School of Nursing Alumni Association, Rochester, Minn.; Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League, Minneapolis, Minn.; Monterey Japanese American Citizens League, Monterey, Calif.; History Department, Bradley University, Peoria, Ill.; Chicago Japanese American Historical Society and Japanese American Service Committee, Chicago; and New Mexico Japanese American Citizens League, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American World War II Experience” will be free and open to the public at the Richard D. Baron ’64 Art Gallery, located at 65 E. College St. Oberlin, Suite 5. The exhibit will be open on Saturdays from 10:00am-5:00 pm and Sundays from 12:00pm-5:00pm from February 17, 2018, through March 18, 2018. During its month-long visit to Oberlin, the city, College and Conservatory will be hosting a series of events related to the exhibit, including academic lectures, documentary film screenings, and talks by internment survivors. A full programming schedule is available at www.go.oberlin.edu/courageand-compassion.