I read with interest George Yoshinaga’s criticism of the decision of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Interpretive Center to host an exhibition of photographic portraits of ordinary American Muslims. Mr. Yoshinaga maintains that the exhibit, which encourages our visitors to reflect on the current stereotyping of an American minority group as an internal enemy “has nothing to do with the evacuation of 120,000 Japanese Americans.”
The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, however, agrees with the Japanese American Citizens League and other prominent Nikkei organizations that have argued forcefully for the need to teach the lessons of the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans in the post-9/11 world.
Mr. Yoshinaga and 120,000 others of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and forced behind barbed wire in the spring of 1942. That did not happen in a vacuum. It happened, in part, because of years of stereotyping and vilification of Japanese Americans in American popular culture and political discourse. Our nation found it all too easy to lump thousands of ordinary Americans in with “the enemy.”
Perhaps if the country could have seen and understood Japanese Americans as regular folks, and not part of an enemy horde, it would have been slower to accept the mass violation of the civil liberties of an entire racial group.
The mission of both the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and this particular exhibit is to provoke thought and dialogue about racism in America today. If the positive feedback we have received from visitors and published comments is an indication, we have been successful in that mission. People who live in the Heart Mountain area are supportive of HMWF’s decision and several newspapers have run news stories about the exhibit.
There has also been one editorial — in the Casper Star Tribune — and it was supportive of the exhibit. There have been no editorials in local papers that were negative. (Mr. Yoshinaga is incorrect on that point.) Another newspaper ran a poll asking readers to weigh in. The majority of voters — 55.9 percent — were in favor of the exhibit.
Our exhibit is working to offer our society today a little bit of what was missing many decades ago. We believe that if Mr. Yoshinaga were to come to Heart Mountain and look at the exhibit, he might find it easier to appreciate this.
Shirley Ann Higuchi, JD
Chair, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation