Most Americans know the story behind Pearl Harbor, but how many realize that the City of Chandler played a role in devastating part of history? The municipality is taking important steps to chronicle these events.
“There was a Japanese-American incarceration camp just a few miles south of Chandler, called the Gila River Relocation Camp,” said Jody A. Crago, museum administrator, Cultural Affairs Division, City of Chandler. “More than 16,000 Japanese Americans were held at some point at that camp during World War II.”
To record this history properly, the City of Chandler will unveil the Nozomi Park History Kiosk during a Jan. 21 ceremony.
“This kiosk is the result of work that began in 2012, originating from a parks board member with a passion for researching the baseball leagues that emerged at the Japanese internment camps of World War II,” Crago said.
“The project was researched and written by the Chandler Museum staff in conjunction with members of the Japanese-American Citizens League, members of the Nisei Baseball Research Project, Japanese American history experts, National Parks historians, and other City of Chandler staff. The ceremony allows us to dedicate this important kiosk that documents this challenging period of American history.”
The new kiosk will have multiple panels describing the history of the internment camp at Gila River, and will be dedicated by Mayor Jay Tibshraeny. There will be additional comments by the president of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), a member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project, and potentially someone who was incarcerated at the Gila River Internment Camp.
“While not a proud time in this country’s history, the background of the internment camps is important,” Tibshraeny said. “Given the proximity of the Gila River Internment Camp to Chandler, this is truly a fitting way to memorialize that piece of our country’s past.
“It’s a way for us to honor those who endured hard times, and I am grateful to all those who were involved in making this kiosk a reality.”
In connection with the kiosk, the Chandler Museum introduced in December a new exhibit exploring the history of Japanese-American internment.
“The exhibit, ‘Art of Survival: Enduring the Turmoil of Tule Lake,’ was an excellent opportunity for the Chandler Museum to mark the 75th anniversary of the start of Japanese-American incarceration during World War II,” Crago said.
“On Feb. 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This executive order eventually led to the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese-Americans from California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Over two-thirds of which were American citizens.”
The exhibit is a nationally roaming commemoration of the Tule Lake internment camp at which Japanese-Americans considered disloyal by the U.S. government were exiled.
“The Tule Lake Segregation Center National Historic Landmark and nearby Camp Tule Lake in California were both used to incarcerate Japanese Americans forcibly removed from the west coast of the United States,” according to the National Park Service website.
Crago said the museum exhibit is comprised of “10 panels that describe the history of Japanese-American incarceration during World War II,” he said. “There are 39 fine art photographs by Hiroshi Watanabe (a highly regarded photographer), and a stunning four-part silk panel art piece regarding Executive Order 9066.”
“The wartime incarceration of Japanese-Americans reminds us that our constitutional and civil rights remain fragile under situations of social duress, said Donna Y. Cheung, president, Japanese-American Citizens League.
“As places of worship continue to receive threatening messages Valleywide, we see the same social forces (prejudice, scapegoating and absence of leadership) still at play,” Cheung said.
Her organization secures and maintains the civil rights of Japanese-Americans and all others who are victimized by injustice and bigotry.
“With the commemoration of the Nozomi Park Kiosk and its telling of this cautionary episode in U.S. history, the City of Chandler, its leaders and residents, speak of its commitment toward upholding the constitutional and civil rights of all people in all communities,” Cheung said. “It’s this willingness to stand up for justice, to stand with people being targeted that makes the telling of Japanese-American wartime incarceration worthwhile. I thank the people of Chandler for their brave commitment toward justice.”
There is a deeper connection between the Tule Lake exhibit and the Nozomi Park History Kiosk.
“Of those who spent part of the war incarcerated at Gila River, more than 2,005 Japanese Americans were ‘segregated’ to Tule Lake,” Crago said.
Funding for the kiosk was provided by “a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service and the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program,” Crago said. “The exhibit was based on work assisted by a grant from the Department of Interior, National Park Service and received federal assistance for the preservation and interpretation of U.S. confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II.”
This History Kiosk is part of the City’s ongoing “History in Your Own Backyard” series, which presents fascinating vantage points on events from a Chandler perspective.