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Cynthia Endo - - 213-625-0414

Japanese American National Museum Opens New Hawai'i Exhibition

Los Angeles

The Japanese American National Museum opens their new exhibit, From Bento to Mixed Plate: Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Multicultural Hawai'i, Saturday, March 14, 1998.

The exhibition tells the story of Americans of Japanese ancestry (AJAs) in Hawai'i from immigration to the present. When they arrived in the Islands as laborers, Japanese immigrants carried their lunches, called bento to work in the fields in sturdy metal containers. They filled the bottom part of the container with steamed, white rice, and shared the simple food in a removable top section with co-workers of other ethnic backgrounds, who, in turn, shared theirs.

Today, this tradition of sharing food continues in the rich, multiethnic society of modern Hawai'i, often symbolized by the popular mixed plate, or plate lunch, which typically includes foods from different cultures served together on a single plate, bound by the common ingredient of rice. Like the mixed plate, each ethnic group in Hawai'i today strives to retain what is unique about their own heritage, while embracing a common sense of identity with each other.

Island residents commonly refer to this way of life as “local,” a lifestyle guided by a blend of Hawaiian and American values and colored by the cultural traditions of the many different ethnic groups who share this Island home.

From Bento to Mixed Plate illustrates in very intimate terms how Americans of Japanese ancestry have been shaped and influenced by people of many cultures and races. The photos and artifacts were collected from private family albums and homes from around the State. There are also replicas of a typical family garage and living room and a video station where people of all ages and races discuss their “mixed plate” experiences, the exhibit features interactive stations where visitors are encouraged to make their own “mixed plate.”

In addition to presenting stories from an AJA perspective through photographs, artifacts, text and video presentations, this exhibit serves as a window through which visitors can view the more general transformation of Island society from its racially segregated past to its multicultural present. It also encourages everyone-regardless of their ethnicity or place of birth-to appreciate their own heritage and to think about the ways we as a nation deal with issues of diversity.

Originally mounted at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, the exhibit is a result of a collaboration between the Japanese American National Museum and local Hawai'i communities and institutions. Once the exhibition leaves Los Angeles it is scheduled to travel to other cities around the United States.

The Japanese American National Museum is located at 369 E. First Street, in the historical Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles. For more information on the exhibit or the Museum call 213-625-0414.



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