The Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC opened a new exhibit dedicated to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. [Image: Wikimedia Commons, free media repository]

New Exhibition Highlights Japanese Americans in World War II


The Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC opened a special exhibition in February, about people of Japanese ancestry sent to US internment camps during World War II. The exhibition, “Righting a Wrong,” commemorated the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt in 1942. The order led to the detainment of 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent as response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Japanese Americans — both citizens and aliens — on the West Coast were forced to leave their homes and were shipped to inland relocation centers for the remainder of the war. The centers were remote, primitive camps with armed guards, barbed wire, and rationing of resources. Though President Ford issued a formal apology to the internees in 1976, saying their incarceration was a “setback to fundamental American principles,” and President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act as compensation, the order acts as painful historical lesson on the importance of civil liberties.

The exhibition, set to run until Feb. 19 next year, has already drawn many visitors of Japanese ancestry. On display are the original Executive Order 9066 document, photographs of the camps, and related documents such as newsletters and handicrafts. Also on show is the Medal of Honor awarded to US Army soldier Joe Nishimoto, a second-generation Japanese-American who was honored for extraordinary acts of heroism, and died in WWII in 1944.

In 2015, there were 1,388,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans living in the United States, making them the sixth largest Asian American group. The Japanese are the only Asian group that is majority U.S. born (73% of the total population and 68% of adults); all other subgroups, such as Chinese and Korean, are majority foreign born. A third of Japanese who received green cards to America in 2011 got them on the basis of employer sponsorship.

Alison Ma is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington, DC. She is on an exchange program from the University of Sydney.