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Exhibition puts viewers in midst of WWII-era removal of Japanese Americans

‘BeHere / 1942,’ presented by the Yanai Initiative of UCLA and Tokyo’s Waseda University, opens May 7

Historic image of cameramen recording Michi Tanioka, 5, as she waits to be sent from Los Angeles to the Manzanar prison camp in April 1942.

Cameramen record Michi Tanioka, 5, as she waits to be sent from Los Angeles to the Manzanar prison camp in April 1942. This image, taken by photographer Russell Lee, and others by Lee and Dorothea Lange documenting forced removals along the West Coast were used as inspiration for Masaki Fujihata’s immersive AR re-creation. Image credit: Library of Congress/Russell Lee


By Alison Hewitt | May 2, 2022

Eighty years ago, during World War II, the U.S. government forcibly removed Japanese Americans from the West Coast, incarcerating 120,000 in concentration camps. This May, an exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum lets visitors step into those dark days of 1942 through an augmented reality re-creation at the very site where thousands of Japanese Americans living in downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood were ordered to report before trains and buses took them to the camps.

BeHere / 1942: A New Lens on the Japanese American Incarceration,” which opens May 7, is presented by the Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities, a joint project of UCLA and Japan’s Waseda University, in collaboration with the museum.

The brainchild of pioneering Japanese media artist and former UCLA visiting professor Masaki Fujihata, the exhibition draws on thousands of historic photographs of the 1942 removal, including many taken by government-employed photographers Dorothea Lange and Russell Lee.

While Fujihata incorporates scores of these images into his exhibition, he also reexamines and transforms them to shed new light on the dynamics of the expulsion tragedy. He reimagines some as AR videos and hyper-enlarges others to reveal for the first time the reflections in subjects’ eyes, allowing visitors to see what they saw: reporters and government officials hovering just outside the frame.

“This is an exhibit about what photographs reveal and what they conceal,” said UCLA Professor Michael Emmerich, director of the Yanai Initiative. “On one level, it is about what happened here in Little Tokyo and all along the West Coast in 1942, but it is also about the present. Even 80 years later, we are still grappling with anti-Asian violence and racism and still dealing as a society with the same civil rights issues.”

Opening during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, “BeHere / 1942” launches almost 80 years to the day — May 9, 1942 — that 3,475 residents of Little Tokyo lost their homes, their possessions and their freedom. It was among the largest of the wartime Japanese American removals. About 37,000 Los Angeles residents of Japanese descent were incarcerated, including many who departed in April 1942 from the former Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, now known as the Historic Bulding on the museum’s campus.


A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the AR re-creation in Los Angeles | By David Leonard


In the museum’s outdoor plaza, facing the historic temple building, visitors can use smartphones (with the “BeHere / 1942” app) or museum-provided devices to view Fujihata’s massive 200-person AR installation. By aiming their device at the building and nearby spaces, they’ll see a series of historically inspired 3D videos overlayed on the physical environment, recreating a scene like the one that occurred May 9 and up and down the West Coast. The installation will remain visible even after the exhibition concludes on Oct. 9.

Drawing inspiration from the photographs of Lange and Lee, the digital re-creation involved dozens of volunteer “actors” in both Los Angeles and Tokyo who donned period costumes — some even got 1940s-style haircuts — then entered special film studios to have their likenesses recorded through a new technique called volumetric video capture and integrated into the AR app. Three of these volunteers were among those sent to the camps in 1942, including Michi Tanioka, 85, who was expelled from Little Tokyo with her family as a 5-year-old.

Left: Image of Michi Tanioka, 85, participating in the augmented reality re-creation. Image credit: Masaki Fujihata. Right, Tanioka at age 5, waiting to be sent to a prison camp. Image credit: Library of Congress/Russell Lee.

Left: Michi Tanioka, 85, participating in the augmented reality re-creation. Image by Masaki Fujihata. Right, Tanioka at age 5, waiting to be sent to a prison camp. Image: Library of Congress/Russell Lee.


“It was a major part of my young life to be taken away at that age,” said Tanioka, who recalled spending many years ashamed of her imprisonment before becoming a docent at the museum. “My family was just starting to have a better lifestyle, but then all of that stopped. After 9/11, I saw the same thing could happen to others if we weren’t vigilant and outspoken. Hopefully this exhibit sends the message that nothing like this should ever happen again.”

Tanioka was also among those photographed during the removal. A picture of her clutching a doll while a Japanese woman, possibly an interpreter, kneels next to her and two white cameramen record her is featured on the exhibition’s catalog. Fujihata used this image for reference in one of his AR scenes. He reviewed dozens of photos to depict one such moment frozen in time, with the camera panning to reveal the intimidating scene Tanioka and other children encountered.

The exhibition also encourages visitors to put themselves in the photographers’ shoes by imagining they’ve been dispatched to document the removal. Inside the museum is a smaller AR installation, a re-creation of downtown Los Angeles’ Santa Fe train depot from which Japanese American residents were sent to the camp at Manzanar. The scene is viewable only through specialized replicas of the Graflex camera used by Lange, and the installation displays pictures visitors take.

“I tried to understand how these photographs were made — the relationship of the subject and the photographer — and to find ways to look at these pictures, not just as a consumer of the image but from the perspective of the person behind the camera,” said Fujihata, who conceived the exhibition while a Regents’ Professor at UCLA in 2019–20. “When a cameraman came and asked to take your photograph, you couldn’t say no, especially in a situation like the forced removal, over which you had no control. There was a clear hierarchy then, as there is now, with the camera becoming a sort of weapon.”

This dual perspective invites deeper engagement with the removal and incarceration, inspiring deep sympathy with those being incarcerated while at the same time forcing visitors to see through the eyes of the photographers — some of whose photos, like Lange’s, so deliberately invoked the injustice that they were censored by the government.

Using new technology to teach about the forced removal and incarceration is a vital way to communicate about the importance of civil rights, especially after the survivors are gone, said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum.

“It has been 80 years since people of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes in Little Tokyo, yet issues of racism, discrimination and exclusion remain starkly present,” she said. “The need to advocate for inclusion and social justice remains urgent. By combining our historic knowledge with new and innovative technology to tell these important stories, we honor this legacy and help to reimagine a just future.”

Read more about the Japanese American removal and incarceration on UCLA Newsroom:

► A lesson in state-sanctioned injustice

► Understanding today’s anti-Asian violence by looking at the past

► Documentary explores the site of the Manzanar camp

► Bruins imprisoned in camps return 70 years later to receive degrees

‘I know I have civil rights’: How the incarceration resonates today

Image of June Aoichi Berk with her with her family at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas, where they were incarcerated.

June Aoichi Berk (far right) with her family at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas, where they were incarcerated. Image courtesy of June Aochi Berk

June Aochi Berk, now 90 and a docent at the museum, vividly recalls preparing to go to the camps 80 years ago. Her parents and neighbors had a few days to sell most of their belongings, and, fearing arrest as they saw community leaders taken away, they built backyard bonfires to destroy family heirlooms suggesting connections to Japan.

“My older sister was very upset, and I remember she said, ‘I know I have civil rights. They can’t do this to us. We’re American citizens,’” said Berk, who participated in the AR re-creation. Though she used to avoid discussing her past, she now speaks about the incarceration to groups of students, many who have never heard of the camps or only know about them from a single paragraph in history books.

“When you start to blame people for where they come from, we get into very dangerous territory,” Berk said. “I’ve never been to Japan. There was nothing my family could have done to stop the war. American Muslims didn’t cause 9/11. American Russians didn’t invade Ukraine. We have to speak out, because when one person’s civil rights are taken away, everyone’s civil rights are diminished. This exhibit reminds us to be vigilant so nobody goes through this again.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

A perfect tribute: UCLA names labor center building in honor of Rev. James Lawson Jr.

By Madeline Adamo

Civil and labor rights icon and 20-year labor studies faculty member to be linked with UCLA in perpetuity
Image of Rev. James Lawson speaking to interns in the Dream Summer program, a fellowship opportunity for student immigrants and their allies.

Rev. James Lawson loves speaking to the next generation of activists and leaders. Here he speaks to interns in the Dream Summer program, a fellowship opportunity for student immigrants and their allies. Photo credit: UCLA Labor Center

The Rev. James Lawson Jr. has always understood the importance of preparation. While a college student in the 1940s with a passion for civil rights, he took inventory of what was going on in a Cold War-era United States and decided he needed to get involved. And given the government’s reaction to demonstrations, he better get prepared to go to jail. He read books about people, like Gandhi, who had been imprisoned for being conscientious objectors to what they viewed as immoral government policies.

When the Korean War erupted in 1950, Lawson stood by his pacifist beliefs and refused to join the U.S. military. He was sentenced to federal prison for violating the country’s draft laws.

The preparation for prison had paid off. Thanks to his reading, Lawson emerged after serving 13 months of a three-year sentence even more dedicated to the philosophy of nonviolence — the work, he says, God commissioned him to do.

During the ensuing decades Lawson would become one of the key leaders of the national civil rights and labor rights movements and a very close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. The two were staunch proponents of the power of nonviolent civil disobedience and believed deeply in how strength of will and dedication to a cause prepared one to endure extreme opposition.

But for a man who helped shape the course of history, nothing could have prepared him, in mind and heart, for the honor of being the namesake of the UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center.

“I am extremely grateful beyond any kind of words,” said Lawson, who with King and other advocates for justice, canonized the intersection between labor and civil rights, strengthening the movement for both through the practice of nonviolence. For Lawson, the worker justice center and labor studies program — through which he has taught his annual UCLA class on nonviolence and social movements for the last 20 years — symbolizes the labor movement’s potential to inspire social and economic change

“I hope that it will become a symbol of the powers of life that are in each of us,” Lawson said, “and how we can cultivate those powers and enable ourselves and our community in Los Angeles to become what it can yet become.”

The formal dedication will occur on Saturday, Dec. 11, when a host of labor, community and political leaders will join UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and others in honoring Lawson. Among those present will be California State Sen. María Elena Durazo, a former Lawson student who helped secure $15 million in state funding to renovate and rename the UCLA Labor Center’s historic MacArthur Park building, which houses the center’s research, education and service programs in the heart of Los Angeles.

Lawson’s imprint on history through nonviolence

Naming this particular building in Lawson’s honor was a perfect fit, according to friends, former students and colleagues. The activist and theologian played key roles in some of the most famous social and worker justice demonstrations in American history:

• providing nonviolence and spiritual guidance to the nine Black students (the Little Rock Nine) who enrolled at an all-white public school in Little Rock, Arkansas, to test the school integration order from the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education;

• spearheading the 1960 Nashville sit-in campaign to desegregate lunch counters marking a pivotal moment in launching the Civil Rights Movement;

• leading the Freedom Rides of 1961, which protested segregated bus terminals in the South, mobilizing a new generation of civil rights activists;

• organizing the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, which demonstrated against segregation in Alabama.

But Lawson is perhaps best known for his work behind the 1968 sanitation workers strike and his role in bringing King to Memphis, Tennessee, for the demonstration. Tragically, this is where Lawson’s dear friend was assassinated.

The two had previously led workshops together, during which Lawson partnered with King as his right-hand man in their mutual promotion of nonviolence. Among those who participated in those workshops, the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who was a student at American Baptist College in Nashville at the time.

By the early 1970s, Lawson moved to Los Angeles and became pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church, where he met leaders in the Los Angeles labor rights movement. Among these leaders was Durazo, then president of the hotel workers union of Los Angeles.

Durazo, who as a California state senator represents Central and East Los Angeles, said the mostly Latina hotel workers were inspired after he spoke to them. Lawson continued working with the union leading workshops about civil disobedience tactics like taking over the streets, hunger strikes and other peaceful shows of resistance to oppose the exploitation of hotel workers.

“He rekindled our movement through his teachings,” Durazo said.

For Lawson, the philosophy of nonviolence is “compassion in action.”

“Using the powers of the best that is in each of us … not only can we be transformed, but we can transform,” Lawson said.

Teaching UCLA students to be the leaders of the future generations

By the early 90s Lawson had cemented himself as a fixture in the Los Angeles labor movement, and it was a natural next step to join the UCLA Labor Center’s efforts to advance worker justice in Los Angeles County and beyond. The center, housed in the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, launched the first labor studies program in the University of California system.

Kent Wong, director of the center since 1991, has been a friend and student of Lawson for almost 40 years. While a staff attorney at the Service Employees International Union, Wong was part of a group of people that met Lawson at his church to participate in workshops centered on nonviolence. Among the group was Durazo and other community activists who would years later go on to elected office bringing with them a support for the labor movement, such as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, and City Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo.

“We were very grateful for his willingness to share his wisdom, his analysis and perspective,” said Wong, who in 2001 asked Lawson about teaching a UCLA class about nonviolence.

Image of Kent Wong and Rev. James Lawson

Kent Wong and Rev. James Lawson. Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

“It’s been very important to me that I’ve been teaching once a year at UCLA and that the opportunity has given me a chance to talk with a wide range of students,” said Lawson, who tailors the course to engage with current events but always through the lens of nonviolence and economic justice. “The emergence of nonviolence as a science of social change could be the most important paradigm called for in the 20th century.”

Even though Lawson’s students have included elected leaders like Durazo and Lewis, he said that each spring quarter’s new class of 300 UCLA students is always his most extraordinary one.

“I try to teach all the time that your big task in college is to be what you are and figure out what you are becoming, because that’s the immediate power that you can control and use,” he said.

The shift to online classes because of COVID-19 has allowed Lawson and Wong, who moderates the discussions, to bring in guest speakers who would not have flown to Los Angeles. In April, UCLA students heard from Angeline Butler, civil rights icon and former student leader of the Nashville sit-in movement. In May, anti-apartheid activist the Rev. Allan Boesak spoke to UCLA students from South Africa.

It comes as no surprise that Lawson plans to teach the course again in spring 2022. “This capacity, to be 93 years old and be agile, enabled to live well is a gift. I’m going to use it to expose as many different people as I can to the fact that we do not have to be a violent culture.”

Lawson, who received the UCLA medal, the campus’s highest honor, in 2018, said he humbly approves of the name dedication and is appreciative of the incorporation of “worker justice” in the name, a concept that to him is the future and hope for the nation.

“You’re in awe of the American history that exists in that man,” said Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and a friend of Lawson. The 800,000-members federation, which is helping host Saturday’s dedication ceremony, has a partnership with the UCLA Labor Center that goes back several decades as Wong and Herrera, the highest-ranking union leader in Los Angeles, found themselves in the same circles.

Herrera said he’s pleased that the name dedication will tie Lawson to a place like UCLA, as well as recognize Lawson’s fight for workers as well as social justice for Black Americans.

“I think this is a huge opportunity to tell the American public that this man is a historic icon,” Herrera said. “He shouldn’t be left out of the history books.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

 

Participants of the 2018 Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey meeting

UCLA political science team leading the way in the study of race and ethnicity politics

Participants of the 2018 Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey meeting

The 2018 Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey meeting held at UCLA brought together more than 100 scholars from universities and colleges across the country.

How do race and ethnicity affect the U.S electorate and the nation’s political system? What effect did Bernie Sanders’ appeal to millennial voters have on Hillary Clinton’s candidacy? How do emotions make an impact on political ambition?

For researchers interested in trying to use data to answer questions like that, UCLA was the place to be this summer, as the second annual gathering of scholars who are participating in the multi-university Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey, known as the CMPS, convened here in Westwood.

In early 2016, UCLA political science professors Lorrie Frasure-Yokley and Matt Barreto, along with co-principal investigators Janelle Wong from the University of Maryland and Edward Vargas from Arizona State University, launched the online survey, which is the first of its kind in the study of race, ethnicity and politics in the United States.

In early August, UCLA hosted its second annual gathering of more than 100 scholars to collaborate on work-in-progress studies using CMPS data including such topics as “Was Hillary Clinton ‘Berned’ By Millennials? Age, Race, and Third-Party Vote Choice in the 2016 Presidential Election” and “Riled Up about Running for Office: Examining the Impact of Emotions on Political Ambition,” both led by UCLA alumnus Jonathan Collins, now at Brown University.

“It’s great to see the diversity of ways the survey findings are explored by scholars of racial and ethnic politics across the country,” Frasure-Yokley said.

The impetus behind the self-funded nationwide research effort was also, in part, about academic inclusion, she said. The project was developed through a collaboration of more than 80 scholars from 55 universities and colleges and 17 academic disciplines and conducted in five languages.

“The 2016 CMPS is more than just a groundbreaking, high-quality, national dataset,” Frasure-Yokley said. “We are changing the way data is collected in the social sciences and collaboratively building a diverse and inclusive academic pipeline of scholars in political science and the social sciences more broadly.”

Collaborating scholars and UCLA workshop attendees included junior and senior faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as postdoctoral fellows from large research institutions, smaller liberal arts colleges, historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions.

This event was an important incubator for feedback on more than a dozen current projects, Frasure-Yokley said, and served as an opportunity to brainstorm on efforts to update and improve the survey before it is launched again following the 2020 presidential election.

The CMPS was designed to house large and generalizable samples of racial and ethnic groups, which allow for within-group comparison and analysis of an individual racial group, or comparative analysis across groups.

series of articles has already been published using CMPS data, including a study of the Asian American vote in the 2016 election, published in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, and another about immigration politics in 2016, published in PS: Political Science & Politics.

The goal is to expand the 2020 survey in several ways, Frasure-Yokley said. The team plans to increase the sample size from 10,000 to 20,000 cases including, but not limited to the following groups: Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, whites, Muslim Americans, black Caribbean immigrants and/or black African immigrants, Native Americans and native Hawaiians. They are also planning to poll an ongoing panel of respondents about a subset of issues important to the study of race, ethnicity and politics in the United States.

Earlier this summer, Frasure-Yokley and Tyson King-Meadows, professor at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, organized a working group to study black politics. The two-day writing retreat held in Washington, D.C. brought together an intergenerational group of 22 scholars, working in research teams of three or four people, who will write and publish together using data from the CMPS.