Recently in Little Tokyo/Los Angeles, the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium brought together practitioners of preservation for a conference on ‘Memory & Monument Making’ at the Japanese American National Museum. They talked about ways to conceive of memory and create monuments that went beyond the usual concept of large concrete and bronze structures as a means of remembrance.
For example, Aura Newlin, Executive Director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, talked about ongoing work in restoring a massive underground 300-foot-long root cellar at Heart Mountain. This storage area had been used to store all the produce grown by the thousands of Japanese Americans confined at the Heart Mountain WW II incarceration site during World War II – produce which they grew themselves and which they needed to survive.
In another example, Buddhist priest Dr. Duncan Ryuken Williams and graphic designer Sunyoung Lee talked about the Ireicho project, an interactive and community-involved process to prevent the erasure of over 125,000 names of those of Japanese descent incarcerated in the WRA camps, Department of Justice sites, etc. The creation of Ireicho includes these 125,000 plus names in a special printed book in which camp survivors, relatives, and friends may put a hanko or stamp alongside their loved ones’ names. It has been a Herculean task to find so many names, many of which had fallen and disappeared through the cracks.
The conference also went beyond a strict focus on Japanese American confinement-related sites/monuments. It allowed everything to be put in context by broadening the focus to multi-community and cross-cultural expressions of remembrance and building design.
Jeffrey Yasuo Mansfield is a Yonsei architect, deaf from birth. He is a Principal in Boston-based MASS (Model of Architecture Serving Society,) an architecture and design collective. This group uses people-centered building design to promote social change, collective healing, and new possibilities for different groups. Jeffrey is an advocate for the Deaf and Disabled communities and currently leads MASS’s Deaf Space and Disability Justice Lab, a group of MASS architects who provide design expertise on healthcare, housing, and educational projects to improve the experience of Deaf and Disabled communities. Jeffrey is also researching how Deaf schools became places of resistance in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
At the conference, Jeffrey also talked about another MASS project — the first national memorial dedicated to remembering the victims of racial terror and lynching in the US. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice rests on six acres atop a gentle hill looking out over Montgomery, Alabama – a city where there are many markers commemorating the Confederate South, while having only a few markers to the Civil Rights Movement and slavery. This memorial provides a place to grieve and heal in relation to the 4,400 African American men, women, and children who were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, or beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.
Several presenters talked about sharing work with Native American groups. Marlene Shigekawa, Executive Director of the Poston Community Alliance, talked about the Colorado River Indian Tribes and Japanese American communities working together to preserve the structures of the Poston incarceration camp on tribal land.
Architect Mayrah Udvardi presented slides on the “Snow Country Prison, Japanese American Internment Memorial”, (another MASS project) located in Bismarck, North Dakota. During WW II, the US Government incarcerated 4,000 Japanese Americans at Ft. Lincoln, an army base and incarceration camp built on grounds taken from the Lakota and Dakota peoples in 1895.
This work-in-process is a collaboration between the National Park Service and the United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) in Bismarck. UTTC serves geographically isolated populations that have little access to education beyond the high school level. It is owned and operated by several Tribal Nations, one of them being the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Yes, the same tribe known for the Standing Rock/ Dakota Access Pipeline protest.
The multi-cultural memorial design at UTTC will incorporate a theme of kintsugi (Japanese art of mending together broken pieces) as a motif representing the bonding of Japanese American and Native American cultures in a shared ceremonial and communal space in a way that evokes the storied and layered history of the site as well as the strength of continued solidarity between Japanese American and Native American communities.
Many other interesting memorial projects presented during the weekend. And although each differs in kind, they all ‘hook’ the viewer and promote thought, discussion, and perhaps action. When I narrated all these projects to a friend, she responded with her own idea: “there ought to be in Washington State, a pilot program for historical-themed field trips for junior high students to visit places where certain historical events should be remembered, ‘lest we forget’.” It could be like school field trips in Poland and Germany that visit sites of the WW II era, but would cover not only Washington State’s darker moments but also the more laudable moments. The trip could cover the state’s “Good, Bad, and Ugly”. The goal would be to learn tolerance and draw inspiration.
Final Note: The NVC Foundation’s website is yet another way to carry on memory and convey message. I would like to thank Karen Shimizu, Chair of the Website Committee, for all her hard work and countless hours put in overseeing the transition to the new website software. Thanks to the work of Karen and others, it will now be easier to manage, operate, and administer the website.
Left to Right: Joshua Webb, ASL Interpreter; Jeffrey Mansfield, MASS architect of human-centered/deaf-centric design; Paola Morales del Castillo, ASL Interpreter