Exhibition “Then They Came For Me” Not To Be Repeated
What does an America look like? Who is welcomed in this country? What is every American’s duty in the face of racist government action? The powerful new exhibition examines the effect of racism and xenophobia from a dark period in American history. The exhibition is organized by the Alphawood Gallery partnered with the Japanese American Service Committee cooperated by other Japanese American organizations.
In the name of national security, Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, allowed the removal of about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, no matter if they were citizens or legal residents, from the West Coast areas and imprisoned them in 10 internment camps in the desert areas across the U.S. They were only allowed to carry a bag per individual and lost all their properties.
The 12,000-square-foot space of the Alphawood Gallery accommodate more than 100 large photo panels, which are culled from the book “Un-American” by Chicago-based photography historians Richard Cahan and Michael Williams. The featured photos include works of renowned photo journalist Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams. Lange was hired by the U.S. Government’s War Relocation Authority to document the evacuation process and internment of Japanese Americans. She captured the pride of Japanese Americans, who were dressed well and waiting for transport trains with dignity. However, a Sansei (third generation of JA), who was looking at the photos, said that their facial expressions were different at their homes.
Photos of Toyo Miyatake, who managed to bring some camera lenses into a camp and assemble a camera inside the camp, are also exhibited. He vividly photographed the imprisoned people and their lives.
Alongside the photographs, a rich trove of documents,
diaries, art, and other archival materials are exhibited. The first-hand
experiences of JAs are available through videos and films.
Roy Wesley’s Testimony
Sansei Roy Wesley spoke about how his hard working family was affected by the incarceration at an opening reception that was hosted by the Alphawood Gallery on June 28.
Wesley’s father’s side was Uyesugi. His grandfather emigrated from Wakayama Prefecture at the age of 19 and arrived in British Columbia. He then worked in the salmon fisheries, railroad construction, and lumber mills. He saved money for 12 years and visited his hometown to marry Chiyo Hata. He returned to the lumber mill in Westport, Oregon and started his own farm after a while.
Wesley’s mother’s side was Sasaki. His grandfather came to the U.S. to pursue a musical career when he was 17. He was directing a choir group at a church in Seattle and met his wife-to-be who also came to the U.S for music study. His grandfather worked at Frederick and Nelson in the furniture department and directed the company’s choir on special occasions.
Wesley’s father was born in Westport, and his family moved to Portland to run a hotel business and a grocery store. While he helped the family businesses, he also spent much time reading. After graduating from high school, he worked in a salmon cannery, truck line, and lumber company to save his college tuition. He graduated from the North Pacific College of Optometry and opened an eye clinic after a while.
Wesley’s mother grew up in Seattle and visited Portland
through her church’s social activities. She met his father and married
in 1940 after three years of courtship.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked
Pearl Harbor, and hatred and prejudice against Japanese Americans surged
among American people. Wesley’s father, then President of the Portland
Japanese American Citizens League, rebutted false accusations and rumors
against the JAs reported in the local papers. He strongly appealed to
One day, the FBI came to his father’s home when he was away. After inspecting the house, a FBI man asked his captain if they took his grandfather with them. The captain said, “No,” and they left. His grandfather said that the captain’s name was Grossenbacher. Grossenbacher, who occasionally visited his eye clinic, was an undercover FBI captain.
Roy Wesley was born in the morning of May 5th, 1942, the final day to report the Portland Salvation Army to be sent to the Portland Assembly Center. Because of his birth, he and his mother could stay in a hospital, but only for three days.
The Assembly Center was formerly livestock stalls. JAs had to live and sleep on the plywood floors, which covered the animal manure. Sanitation was minimal with flies and bad odor. JAs were forced to stay there for five months until barracks were built in 10 internment camps in deserted areas.
After talking with his family, his father decided to enter the Quaker school, Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, when 16 colleges offered sanctuary to JA college students. His father left after three month of imprisonment, and Wesley and his family were sent to Minidoka, Idaho two months after his father’s departure. It took two years for the family to get together. His father changed the family name Uyesugi to Wesley while at Earlham.
During his study at Earlham, his father began losing his eyesight due to lack of sleep and heavy workloads. He fought to find a cure for himself that led to the development of practical contact lenses for daily wear. He built the country’s largest contact lens manufacturing company in the 1950s and 1960s.
His mother’s psychological damage during the war and detention camp experience never healed even though she had a luxurious life later. She died in Chicago at the age of 56.
Wesley said, “Don’t let them come after us,” and quoted James Baldwin’s words, “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals.”
The Alphawood Gallery has been supported by the Alphawood Foundation Chicago and was created to serve as a venue for exhibitions furthering the Foundation’s charitable mission. The Foundation is a grant-making private foundation to work for an equitable, just and humane society. It has given grants to more than 200 organizations annually in the area of the arts, arts education, advocacy, architecture, domestic violence prevention, the environment, promotion and protection of the rights of LGBT and people living with HIV/AIDS, and other human and civil rights.
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