On the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, that document went on display on the West Coast for the first time at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles. On loan from the National Archives in Washington, DC, are two pages of the February 19, 1942 executive order, joined by Presidential Proclamation 2537, which required people from Germany, Italy, and Japan to register with the US Department of Justice. The documents, which had a major impact on the Japanese American communities of California during World War II, are part of the exhibition Instructions to All Persons: Reflections on Executive Order 9066.
“Seventy-five years ago, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was a grave injustice,” Clement Hanami, curator of Instructions to All Persons and the museum’s VP of operations and art director, told Hyperallergic. “There were many societal factors that led to this mass exclusion but it was the Executive Order 9066 signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt that made it official. Today there are still some survivors of the camp experience and we felt it was important to bring the actual document to the museum so they could see, first hand, the official order, with the actual signature of the President, that changed their lives forever.”
The exhibition takes its title from the “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry” posters that appeared following the order, and includes documentary videos and contemporary art by Wendy Maruyama and Mike Saijo alongside the National Archives loans. Although the exhibition continues through August 13, the National Archives objects are only on view until May 21. “Even though one can see EO 9066 online doing a simple Google search, we have witnessed the impact seeing the actual document has had on these individuals, as well as our other visitors,” Hanami added.
The exhibition joins other commemorations of the 1940s incarceration of Japanese Americans, such as the Noguchi Museum in New York’s exhibition on sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s voluntary stay, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s yearlong Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II. While it’s vital to nationally recognize the devastating effect of the order on the lives of Japanese Americans, it’s especially timely in light of President Trump’s executive orders attempting to ban travel from predominantly Muslim countries. Back in 2015, Trump remarked in an ABC video on his proposed ban on Muslim immigration: “What I’m doing is no different than what FDR — FDR’s solution for Germans, Italians, Japanese, you know, many years ago.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, JANM has a public art piece called Moving Day. Through August 11, exclusion orders that followed EO 9066 are projected on the dates they were issued, appearing between sunset and midnight on the exterior of the museum as a litany of remembrance.
Instructions to All Persons: Reflections on Executive Order 9066 continues through August 13 at the Japanese American National Museum (100 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles, California). Executive Order 9066 is on view in the exhibition through May 21.
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