Japan and Black L.A. Initiative participants pause for a group photo in front of the California African American Museum. (Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

The California African American Museum in Exposition Park (CAAM) was the site of a cultural interchange by the Japan and Black L.A. Initiative on Nov. 9.

CAAM’s Executive Director Cameron Shaw welcomed Japan Consul General Akira Muto and consulate staff, members of the Japanese business community, Little Tokyo organization nonprofit CEOs, and Black United Methodist clergy to the only statewide museum that is fully funded by the State of California.

The group was given a guided tour of several impressive exhibits throughout the museum, including “Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch,” the first survey of quilt-based works that features nearly 50 pieces that reflect contemporary art, urban culture, sacred geometry and more influences. Biggers, a Los Angeles native, previously studied Buddhism in Japan, and that influence was evident in “Codeswitch.”

Following a tour of the exhibits, the group engaged in dialogue focusing on relationships between the historic Black and Japanese American communities in Los Angeles. The Rev. Mark M. Nakagawa, United Methodist West District superintendent, focused on the shared histories between the Seinan (Southwest) area of pre-WWII Issei and Nisei and their Black neighbors, who lived side-by-side due to restrictive housing covenants and redlining that were enforced by the real estate and banking industries at that time.

He followed with a poignant story detailing how pre-war members of Holman United Methodist Church watched over items that were stored at the former Centenary United Methodist Church, which was located in the Seinanarea at that time, while the Holman congregation worshiped there in the absence of the Centenary congregation during the internment of Japanese Americans.

Participantsw reflect on an installation from “Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch.”

The participants then engaged in roundtable discussions facilitated by Dr. Curtiss Takada-Rooks of Loyola Marymount University.

The Japan and Black L.A. Initiative was launched in October 2020 as a partnership between the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles and Black clergy of the United Methodist Church I the Los Angeles area. Its mission is to foster relationships and deepen understandings between the Black, Japanese and Japanese American communities.

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