Between a Native-American teepee and the remnants of a display dedicated to Black History Month, the Cottage Grove Library has cleared a space.
On March 10, several panels will be erected housing old newspaper articles, letters and photographs detailing an ugly era in American history when Japanese-Americans were forced into camps and stripped of their civil rights. The exhibit, given by Graham Street Productions under the guide of the Rural Organizing Project, will run until March 31 and include special events but on March 1, the space was empty except for a picnic table where Beth Pool and Pete Burrell sat. The weekly ukulele group playing close by, a jam session circle strumming out the Young Bloods “Get Together,” as the pair detailed the event they say is aimed at raising awareness of present-day parallels.
“It’s weaving contemporary issues in. What’s going with Latinos, what’s going on with all kinds of groups who have been targeted because of their ancestry, color, orientation…etc.,” Burrell said.
The exhibit titled, “Architecture of Internment” is currently traveling around the state and made a stop at Cottage Grove High School Monday and Tuesday where classes were encouraged to view the pieces dating back to the 1940s including letters sent by Japanese-Americans and propaganda published in the nation’s newspapers.
“It’s really about social injustices and when people come to see this exhibit and see these panels, they’ll see that it did not start with WWII but it was decades of build-up of discriminatory practices,” Pool said. “The same thing is happening. We have the same social injustices happening against Mexican-Americans and people of color. So, to bring awareness of that practice, the subtle practice, that’s what I’m hoping, to get that awareness out.”
To highlight the parallels between the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII and the current state of politics surrounding immigration in America, the library has added several special events during the exhibit’s run.
On March 19, Jesus Narvaez will join Mansoor Shams for a discussion. Narvaez, a student at Lane Community College, has come out as a Dreamer—in the U.S. illegally after being brought to the country as a child by his parents. Shams is a U.S. Marine and practicing Muslim.
“Incidents seem to have been growing in the last year so it feels like this is an important time for this exhibit and it will, hopefully show what happens if you don’t speak up, people end up being thrown in prison because they look a certain way,” Burrell said.
The Pew Research Center (a non-profit, non-partisan organization that polls emerging trends and opinions on nationwide issues) released data on Jan. 19 of this year that reported 74 percent of Americans were in favor of granting undocumented immigrants, who were brought into the country as children, a path to citizenship and 60 percent oppose the expansion of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
“Hopefully we’ll get some new folks,” Burrell said when asked if events like the exhibit may not reach residents who do not already agree with its premise. “We certainly do get a lot of regulars but we try to reach out and get a diversity of people. There are a lot of people in town that may see this as controversial. They may not come to a special event but they may stumble upon the exhibit while at the library.”
The Architecture of Internment exhibit is open during library hours, 10 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., and is self-guided. Special events related to the exhibit run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on March 13 (Lawson Inadam, an internment camp survivor), March 19 (Narvaez and Shams) and March 29 when the library will show the film, “Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice” and host a conversation with the director.