Exhibition Elements


More and more people are crossing racial and ethnic lines to create new kinds of families. If the future of America is the multiracial and multiethnic family, Japanese America is already there. U.S. Census data indicates that in the very near future, more than half of all Japanese Americans will be racially or ethnically “mixed” or hapa.

From the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in the Americas nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, hapa Japanese and their families have represented both a clearly visible yet rarely acknowledged, or invisible, part of Japanese American history. These people, who expanded notions of belonging and identity, of family and community, challenge us to imagine new possibilities for the future.

We present here an overview of the exhibition. Come see it in person for a more detailed history, photographs, video, and interactives.

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The earliest immigrants from Japan took risks, crossed oceans, embraced new communities, and established roots in unfamiliar places. Their children became the first Americans of Japanese ancestry; many created multiracial and multiethnic families. Whether in the Territory of Hawai‘i or the contiguous U.S., these pioneers established the early foundation of Japanese America.

The exhibition explores early Japanese pioneers to Hawai‘i (Gannenmono), California (Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm), and Oregon (Orient).

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For most of this country’s history, laws supporting racial segregation were part of the American legal landscape. Anti-miscegenation laws, or state laws that outlawed marriages between Whites and non-Whites, were in place since the 1660s and continued to persist until the late 1960s. The Cable Act of 1922 went so far as to strip U.S. citizenship from American women who married Asian immigrant men.

Such laws contributed to a hostile and even dangerous environment for mixed-race families and people, who often found themselves stuck between the status of legal and illegal. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck down the last of these laws in the Loving v. Virginia case. Today, the scope and meaning of marriage continues to be a topic of much debate in American politics.

The exhibition presents the story of Fusataro Nakaya and Edith Morton. Because interracial marriages were illegal in California, they were married in Tijuana, Mexico. Edith was stripped of her citizenship after marrying Fusataro.

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Questions around loyalty, citizenship, and belonging inevitably become magnified in times of war. During World War II, the United States government and military struggled to determine what to do with the hapa Japanese Americans who blurred the lines between us and them. The inconsistencies in policies towards mixed-race people—both in the U.S. and in Japan—highlighted the tenuous place of mixed-race Japanese in both societies.

The exhibition presents photos and artifacts from the Manzanar Children’s Village, an orphanage set up at the World War II concentration camp where about 20% of the children were multiracial, and the Elizabeth Saunders Home Orphanage for Mixed-Blood Children in Japan established during the American Occupation following World War II.

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The Japanese American community is on the cusp of becoming majority mixed. Does this mean the community will cease to exist? What does it mean to be Japanese American today?

Two prominent Japanese American community institutions that have helped to shape the way some people choose to answer these questions are the Japanese American basketball leagues and local Japanese American beauty pageants. Originally formed to provide Japanese American youth with opportunities to participate in activities denied to them by mainstream society, these leagues and pageants often offer up their own racial and ethnic eligibility rules. The controversies resulting from such rules have exposed some of the challenges and complexities of promoting spaces of belonging.

This section includes team jerseys and group photos from Japanese American basketball teams. There will also be photos and interviews with Hapa Japanese American Queens and Princesses.

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The exhibition features six individuals—Fred Makino, Isamu Noguchi, Melba Yonemura Matsuura, Virgil Westdale, Velina Hasu Houston, and Jero.

Whether by choice or by circumstance, each of these six hapas became the visible face of Japanese America at one point or another. Their stories reflect the deep connections that exist between mixed-race individuals and key moments in Japanese American history. Their struggles to find a place for themselves in Japanese American society and in the broader U.S. reflect the ongoing challenges of becoming a diverse community.

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The exhibition will include two special activities:

  • “Where Do You Come From?” Interactive
    Frequently, hapa families form when people from different countries fall in love and want to start a life together. Their children can trace their parents and grandparents to different countries in the world. Do you have a similar family story? Type the origin of your mother’s and your father’s families into the computer and see what great distances they traveled. Design and implementation by Jennifer Reynolds-Kaye and Alfred Kaye.

  • 1001 Journals Project
    In August, 2000, San Francisco-based artist Brian Singer sent 100 blank journals into the world. He left some in bathrooms, some in cafes, some in the kitchen of the office where he worked. The 100 journals turned into 1000 and has traveled to over 40 countries and to every state in the U.S.; there has been both a book and a documentary dedicated to its reach as an “ongoing collaborative experiment…to provide a method for interaction and shared creativity among friends and strangers.”

    Recently the 1000 journals has become 1001 and counting with the 1001 journals project (www.1001journals.com). We welcome all visitors to contribute to one of our journals and join the conversation.

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In addition to video interviews in the exhibition, you can also watch video trailers from Good Luck Soup (forthcoming), Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan (2013), Mixed Match (forthcoming), Neither Here Nor There (2011), and One Big Hapa Family (2010) in the Orientation Theater.

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