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date: 08 April 2020

Summary and Keywords

Narrating the Japanese American incarceration has always been an act of both remembering and forgetting, a representation of what happened when the civil and human rights of 120,000 Japanese Americans were violated during World War II. From the moment that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which enabled the removal and imprisonment of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast of the United States, “remembering” the Japanese American incarceration has been an act that has alternately justified, explained, documented, repudiated, remembered, redressed, reconstructed, and deconstructed a profound betrayal of the United States against its people. In reading the histories and memories of Japanese American incarceration, it is important to consider a wide range of forms, the historical context of the representation, and the audiences to whom the narratives are addressed. While there have been a number of memoirs, novels, poetry, short stories, plays, films, photography, art, and music that make up Japanese American incarceration culture, it is important to consider artistic interventions alongside the national narratives that have served as the foundation of legal decisions, congressional acts and testimonies, national and state memorials, museum exhibits, and history books. Such histories often acknowledge the injustice of the incarceration, even as they simultaneously defend its necessity (legal cases), explain it as aberration (congressional acts), or incorporate and resolve the injustice within a larger US narrative of progress (museum exhibits and history books). National narratives of the incarceration thus involve remembering and forgetting, both making visible the injustice to a national consciousness and casting it as an exception to a progressive national identity. Art forms that remember the incarceration often bear witness to what national histories can forget, the disquieting absences, erasures, silences, fragments, contradictions, and traumas that can never be fully redressed nor reconciled.

Keywords: Japanese American, Asian American, incarceration, internment, law, museum, memorial, history, memory, race

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