The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) will open its new exhibition, “Don’t Fence Me In: Coming of Age in America’s Concentration Camps,” on Saturday, March 4.
The exhibition will explore the experiences of Japanese American youth who asserted their place as young Americans confronting the injustice of being imprisoned in World War II concentration camps and embarking on the universal journey into adolescence. “Don’t Fence Me In” will be on view until Oct. 1.
“Many World War II incarceration survivors – including our volunteers – were children and teenagers when they were incarcerated,” said Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO. “Now they are in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, but their boundless energy and enthusiasm for sharing their own experiences, history, and lessons they learned in childhood continue to resonate with today’s generation and are essential to protecting our democracy and standing against anti-Asian hate, discrimination, and racial injustice.”
Through photographs, personal stories, and artifacts such as sports uniforms, musical instruments, and scout memorabilia, “Don’t Fence Me In” reveals the strength and ingenuity of young Americans who came of age in the War Relocation Authority camps and the Crystal City Department of Justice internment camp. From volunteer projects and camping trips to social dances, scout trips, and sports leagues, they drew upon their own resilience and creativity to forge friendships and community in the face of abrupt upheaval and wrongful imprisonment in their youth.
A companion book and four public programs will accompany “Don’t Fence Me In.” The companion book, available at http://janmstore.com, will feature essays and illustrations exploring the experiences of growing up in American concentration camps.
“The uniqueness of ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ lies in the history, personal stories, and artifacts that represent the complexities of growing up behind barbed wire,” said JANM Project Curator Emily Anderson. “Coming of age for these young people was individual and universal, but it was also troubled by the reality that their experiences occurred in a time and place where their civil liberties were unjustly dismissed. While they continued to look for a sense of belonging long after so much was lost, they also helped rebuild a sense of community and at the same time, ensured that the harsh lessons from their past were taught to future generations.”
Public programming for “Don’t Fence Me In” will immerse audiences into the experience of being a young person in America’s concentration camps during World War II and the challenges of coming of age in a challenging environment. Check http://janm.org/events for the latest public program information. An audio tour of the exhibition will also be available on JANM’s free digital guide on Bloomberg Connects.
Saturday, March 4, 2–3:30 p.m.: “Raising the Flag: Scouting and Coming of Age in America’s Concentration Camps.” The Boy Scouts of Heart Mountain will join JANM for an intergenerational conversation on coming of age in a World War II concentration camp. The event will highlight a short film by Yuka Murakami that captured a moment at the 2019 Heart Mountain pilgrimage opening ceremony where 89-year-old Harumi “Bacon” Sakatani, who was a teenage incarceree and former Boy Scout during World War II, is adamant about raising the U.S. flag alongside his fellow Boy Scouts. This program will also include A Gathering of Eagles, providing an opportunity for the community of Boy Scouts to come together in community and conversation (ticket details to be announced on www.janm.org).
Saturday, June 17, 12–1:30 p.m.: “Under Starry Skies: A Conversation with World War II Concentration Camp Survivors.” 2–5 p.m.: All Camps Swing Dance with Fabulous Esquire Big Band.
The resilience of a community in struggle through dance is the focus of a multi-part, in-person program that will explore the impact of swing music and dance on youth in America’s concentration camps through personal storytelling, history, and dancing. At JANM, dance preservationist Rusty Frank will explore what it was like to be a young person making the best of a difficult situation through a conversation with World War II concentration camp survivors June Berk and Takayo Fischer, who met at the Rohwer camp in Arkansas when they were ten years old. Following the conversation will be a swing dance with live music, a beginner dance lesson, and opportunities for all to join (ticket details to be announced on www.janm.org).
During the summer, JANM will host two programs on storytelling. “Telling Our Family Stories” will guide participants through the process of sharing stories with each other. “Let Me Be Myself: Coming of Age Throughout History” will feature notable youth and leaders who will discuss the challenges of coming of age throughout U.S. history while holding intersecting and marginalized identities (dates and ticket details to be announced on www.janm.org).
“Don’t Fence Me In” is funded, in part, by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Parks Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program; the Foundation for Stronger Communities; the State of California, administered by the California State Library; and the California Community Foundation. The Rafu Shimpo is the media sponsor.
Located at First Street and Central Avenue in Little Tokyo, JANM is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday–Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free on Thursday from 12 to 8 p.m. Admission is free every third Thursday of the month and from 5 to 8 p.m. on all other Thursdays. For more information, call (213) 625-0414, visit www.janm.org or follow on social media @jamuseum.