Sunday, December 2, 2012

My favorite archive objects...

Today I decided to do a summarized list of the objects from the archive that have had the most profound affect on us.

I would say that first on the list is the Purple Heart awarded to Tom Arai for his valiant efforts during the second World War. I learned that during WWII they created the largest amount of Purple Hearts for any given period because of the expectation that the war would call upon men in ways that no other had before. They produced so many that today, the Purple Hearts that are awarded to soldiers are mostly still from the same batch. It was striking to see this Purple Heart because it was one of the first of its lot, and awarded during the period it was meant for. The connection between all these Purple Hearts also makes us realize that no matter what time or what battle, all of these soldiers are bound together by their courage.
It was also striking to see this object in person, because it solidified many of the things I have learned about the actions of Japanese Americans during the complicated and tumultuous time that defined WWII across the globe and within the United States. I have always heard of the admirable acts of loyalty by Japanese Americans in the face of fear, but only when I saw the Purple Heart did that fact come to be so significant for me. It was the actions of individuals, and their noble character that made up the history of all Japanese Americans.

My second favorite objects were the artifacts from the camps. The small handcrafted birds from Topaz and other internment camps were significant because they are physical proof of the resilience of Japanese Americans who were interned.
These artifacts also add to the significance of Arai's Purple Heart, because it shows the full range of experience of Japanese Americans during the war. It was also very interesting to see the differences between the different birds as it shows the development of an individual's art and the change in their personal expression. Although these concepts are more like those you would encounter in art history, I think they apply to any individual artist. It is also interesting that the artist chose to depict birds that are not native to the area where they were interned. I liked these because they gave a real physical context to the experiences of Japanese Americans in the camps that I had only heard or read about before.

A few objects that we recently found in the archive are athletic uniforms from Japanese American Chicagoans who migrated to the Midwest after being released from the Internment Camps. These objects are significant to Japanese American history as they represent the activities of the Japanese Americans as a community after being displaced by the forced relocation and internment.
It is inspiring to see the ambition of Japanese Americans to establish a strong and unified community in Chicago after their great losses. Although many of the Japanese Americans that moved to Chicago never imagined living in this city, their efforts to build a true community can be seen throughout their history in Chicago. Since the Japanese American community is much larger on the West Coast in cities like L.A. I always considered these places to be the meccas of Japanese American culture. After working with so many objects from Japanese Americans in Chicago, I now have a greater appreciation for our community here. 

It may look backwards, but it opens up like a classic
Japanese book from left to right
The last objects I will include in this post are the many family album collections from Chicago Japanese Americans. These are all very nicely put together, and kept in very good condition. They usually include photos of family members in Japan around the turn of the century. Very few include recent pictures of the family that owns the album. It seems to be reserved for old pictures of Japanese ancestors. 

These books are very well organized and made from high quality paper making our accessioning process very easy, as we do not have to worry about the storage of the photos. My family does not have many photos of our ancestors as our family's migration to the United States occurred many generations ago. Seeing these photos of other Japanese families who have relocated to Chicago like my own are especially interesting. Most of the photos depict humble farm - tending families, as most of the Japanese people that sought to migrate to the U.S. were from humble backgrounds. Some however, appear to be more affluent, or have very extensive families with many children and grandparents. These are intriguing  because they show the diverse backgrounds of Japanese American families.

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