At the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, there is a model of historic Japantown in downtown Portland. It shows all the Japanese owned businesses that were operating pre-World War II. These businesses are no longer in Portland today. Not because Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans were lazy, or made bad business choices, or just decided to stop running their businesses. These businesses and properties were seized, and their owners interned during World War II.
The Legacy Center has a small exhibit about the experiences of these interned Japanese immigrants and Americans. You see the areas they had settled into, the lives they were forced to leave behind, and the conditions they were forced to live in when they were interned. Through pictures, displays, and poetry, this exhibit drives home how Japanese immigrants and Americans integrated into their communities, and how they were ripped apart from the U.S. fabric by internment, communicating who is allowed full membership in America, (ie whites), and how if communities of color are “behind”, it is because racist policies and actions continually destroy progress they make.
There is also a temporary exhibit in the Legacy Center: kip fulbeck: part Asian, 100% hapa. It explores reactions of hapas to the question, “What are you?”, and teases at the ideas of essentialized races that drive such questions. Although yes, lineage can be simple as having one parent who grew up in one country and another parent who grew up in another, the greater migration and mixing of humanity is more intricate and complex.
Visit the hapa exhibit and ask yourself: What does it really mean to be “half white, half Asian”, or to try and quantify any other kinds of “mixtures”. Why is it important to us to identify these categories, when white people are allowed to just be white? If you want more grounding and discussion, APANO is hosting a tour and discussion this Thursday night, August 4, with karaoke after!
Educate and liberate.