This is adapted from Tamiko Nimura’s General Declaration of the value of the Seattle National Archives and Records Administration facility which is currently under threat due to the federal government having made plans to sell the facility to a real estate developer. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, joined by 40 tribes, the state of Oregon, and nine museums and historic preservation societies, is suing the federal government in an effort to stop the sale.
I am an Asian American freelance writer and public historian, writing in support of the Washington State Attorney General’s lawsuit to delay the sale of the Seattle National Archives and Records Administration facility.
Over the last six years, I have conducted extensive research and published writing about the histories of communities of color in the Pacific Northwest. I have a Ph.D. in English, with training in American ethnic studies, from the University of Washington in Seattle.
My first book was a biography and oral history of retired Washington State Senator Rosa Franklin for the Washington State Legislative Oral History Program. My second book is a co-written graphic novel, including the history of Japanese Americans from Seattle, is entitled We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Acts of Wartime Resistance (forthcoming, Wing Luke Asian Museum and Chin Music Press, 2021).
My public history work includes Japanese American agricultural history on Vashon Island for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as several encyclopedia articles for HistoryLink.org about Japanese Americans in Fife and Tacoma. I worked with Artifacts Inc., in order to do mitigation work about the Lorenz Hotel for the City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Office. For several years I have organized Japanese American Days of Remembrance for the City of Tacoma, partnering with the Washington State Historical Society, and will be a consultant with them for their Japanese American Remembrance Gallery opening in 2021.
If there is one thing that I have learned in doing this research, it is that there is so much more to uncover in this history. From the Chinese expulsion in Tacoma to the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans to the African American military families of our state (like Senator Franklin’s), there are many more stories that need to be documented, researched, and told. I noticed that the records leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act (in which Tacoma’s Chinese expulsion played an important role) are some of the most frequently requested from the Seattle National Archives facility. The story of that Act and Washington State’s role in it is still a vital and lesser known story for students of American history in our state. Based on the work of a former employee at the Archives, I believe that some of the federal court records of several Japanese American wartime resisters, such as Minoru Yasui, Hajime (Jim) Akutsu and Gordon Hirabayashi, also reside in the Seattle facility.
As a researcher, I can also attest that the ability to browse physical archival records, as opposed to requesting records, is unparalleled. My ability to go through the 14 archival boxes of Senator Franklin’s correspondence and files from the Washington State Legislature, for example, gave me several important documents which yielded insights into her long and distinguished 20-year career in Olympia. A printed e-mail to a community college student yielded insight into her approach to education; a thank-you letter from a Tacoma union told of her relationship with labor and her significant contribution to creating a trauma care center in Tacoma which lasts to this day. One of the deep pleasures of archival research, in fact, is finding what you did not expect to find. Requesting copies of a folder or a box would have been a gamble, expensive in terms of staffing time and my own expenses. I have found that archives do not speak without significant curation and access, and even finding aids and indexes will only go so far. The human ability to search them is crucial.
Moreover, as a researcher still uncovering Japanese American history in Tacoma, I should note that there are now Japanese American descendants doing genealogical work whose families moved away from the Pacific Northwest. I anticipate more of these research inquiries with the passing of the Nisei (second) generation, as Japanese Americans seek to retrace their family histories through cities like Tacoma, Seattle, Bainbridge Island, and Fife. It is already difficult to direct them to the WRA records at the facility in Maryland. I have been in contact with several such families from Tacoma, and their genealogical work is an important component of recovering much of Tacoma’s lesser-known Japanese American history.
I urge all interested parties to oppose the sale of this facility, and keep the records in a publicly accessible facility in the Pacific Northwest.