Righting A Wrong: Arizona Capitol Museum Connects State To Japanese Internment

By Mariana Dale
Published: Friday, February 22, 2019 - 6:14pm
Updated: Friday, February 22, 2019 - 9:05pm

Gila River Internment Camp memorial to Japanese American veterans
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
A memorial to Japanese Americans who fought in World War II built on the site of the former Gila River Interment Camp in Central Arizona pictured on November 3, 2018.

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the imprisonment of more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry.

Two of those internment camps were located in Arizona.

Now through April, this chapter of American history will be on display at the Arizona Capitol Museum through "Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II."

The exhibit originated at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Arizona is the first stop on a three-year year road trip.

Arizona Capitol Museum Assistant Administrator Stephanie Mahan says visitors will see what events lead to the incarceration and feature snapshots of life in the camps.

“I was really moved by the examples of art that people created,” Mahan said.  

One memorable piece is a small acorn crafted into a doll’s head.

“It really kind of captures the resilience. People were trying to normalize their lives, and they were finding ways to express themselves and they continued to create even though they were imprisoned.”

‘Life Turned Upside Down'

Manzanar Japanese internment camp
Dorothea Lange/National Archives
Dust storm at Manzanar camp in California, 1942.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Museum specialist Noriko Sanefuji helped create the original exhibit.

She helped choose which objects could represent the experience of 120,000 people — the majority of whom were U.S. citizens — who were incarcerated in camps.

“It wasn’t just leaders of the community or Buddhist priests or language instructors,” Sanefuji said. ”It was anybody, people going to school — boom — just that day their life turned upside down.”

There’s a high school diploma from the Poston Camp in eastern Arizona and a duffel bag that carried a family’s belongings to the Gila River camp south of Phoenix.

Sanefuji hopes the exhibit resonates the feels of “It’s real. This happened.”

The Arizona Capitol Museum is located at 1700 W Washington St. and is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“Righting A Wrong” is on display through April 7. 

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