The story of citizenship and immigration to the United States is one of pain and perseverance. Under racist quota laws, “undesirable” immigrants and their American descendants were restricted until the Civil Rights Movement made way for the Immigration Act of 1965, which dissolved race-based quotas and created an influx of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Pacific Islands.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of this monumental legislation signed by Lyndon B. Johnson, the Wing Luke Museum will feature a new exhibit titled “Belonging: Before and After the Immigration Act of 1965,” from March 6 to January 2016. But there’s a catch—the exhibit will feature stories and art submitted from the local community with work ranging from Hawaiian paintings to Filipino music videos to Chinese ceramics. The deadline for submissions is February 15.
For Minh Nguyen, exhibit developer at the Wing Luke, the community-based exhibit opens a dialogue still relevant today.
“We wanted to mark this act and commemorate it while opening it up to a larger discussion about immigration in general,” Nguyen said. “ In doing this, we are able to look at immigration in the last 50 years as well as immigration issues that we’re dealing with today.”
“Belonging: Before and After,” will have two components—a physical exhibit occupying a space in the Wing Luke, and a digital exhibit on the Wing Luke’s website that will display a more extensive collection of stories and art.
“You would need a massive exhibition space to narrate everybody’s story, so we thought that the digital exhibit would be a good way to tell a more comprehensive history of immigrants in America,” Nguyen said.
The digital exhibit gives submitters of all backgrounds the opportunity to tell their stories, as the immigration issue isn’t exclusive to Seattle’s Asian American community.
Connie So, senior lecturer in American ethnic studies at the University of Washington, believes it is important to reflect on the common struggle against restrictive immigration laws and to celebrate the stories of all immigrants.
“It’s important to remember that nearly all immigrants were impacted, and that they overcame it together,” So said.
For Lawrence Matsuda, poet and retired school principal, “Belonging: Before and After,” illustrates the patriotic nature of Asian immigrants despite a painful past in a discriminatory system.
“The exhibit shows the contributions that the immigrants made, the perseverance to contribute something, as well as showing how loyal and patriotic these immigrants were even though the road was longer and harder than most,” Matsuda said.
The amount of stories and art that have already been submitted indicate that the impact of the restrictive immigration laws and the 1965 legislation is still felt today. According to So, it was the Immigration Act that diversified the American landscape and facilitated the influx of immigrants that we see today.
Many of artists submitting works remember the struggles first-hand—something that adds a powerful element to the exhibit.
One of the featured artists is Matsuda, who was born in the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho in 1945. He has dedicated his writings to the passed-down memories of the experience. His poetry illustrates the injustices of the internment camp.
“Everyone in my family was incarcerated there,” Matsuda recalls. “I was born there. My brother was born there. My mother, father, grandfather, uncle and aunt—everyone in my family who was not in Hiroshima was in the camp for three-to-four years.”
Matsuda, who worked on the now defunct Issei Memorial Project for the Friends of Minidoka, has been compiling a list of Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants) incarcerated at Minidoka during WWII as a means to honor those who were forcibly moved there by the paranoid American government.
The list is displayed on a banner that has been traveling across the country for descendants to add names to the growing list. An electronic version of the banner will be part of the digital exhibit, and Matsuda hopes to retrieve the banner for display in the museum-based exhibit.
“Initially it was in honor of the Japanese immigrants who came to a new country and couldn’t become citizens despite contributing to the country,” Matsuda said. “They lost a lot in the war. They had children who fought for America, and they made a great deal of sacrifices.”
For Matsuda, displaying the banner is a way for people to reflect on an atrocity that will hopefully never happen again.
“It’s a way for people to connect to their relatives, see how many people were incarcerated and recognize the fact that these people contributed to America even though they had to overcome a lot of barriers,” Matsuda said.
For more information about the exhibit, contact Minh Nguyen at (206) 623-5124 x 102, or [email protected].