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The Suitcase Project Travels to Seattle

The Suitcase Project held at JCCCW

by Stephanie Ikeda, the North American Post

The Suitcase Project is an ambitious exhibition and public history project focusing on how fourth and fifth generation Japanese Americans and Canadians, or Yonsei and Gosei in North America, would react today to the forced exclusion orders issued during World War II. Photographer and yonsei Japanese Canadian Kayla Isomura conceptualized and executed the project by interviewing, filming, and photographing volunteer participants from Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle, Washington. The exhibit includes photographs, film, and audio collected during these interview sessions as well as a comprehensive catalog of all the participants and the items they chose to pack in their suitcase in the event EO 9066 was issued today.

The exhibit was mainly shown at the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre in B.C. but Kayla has remained In addition to presenting The Suitcase Project at the 2018 Minidoka Pilgrimage and hosting private pop-up viewings at 2018 Densho Dinner and the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington, Kayla hopes to expand the reach of the project even more and interview even more young Nikkei people about their family histories and relationships to the World War II experience.

The participants ranged in age from a 4-month-old infant to those in their 40s and 50s; they had a variety of reactions to the question of how incarceration affected them and their families. Despite being two to three generations removed from the war history, it was apparent to me as a historian that the anti-Japanese sentiment of World War II had affected all Nikkei in some way, whether it was through assimilation, displacement, or any number of sociological effects that the incarceration had on the population.

Kayla never met her grandparents who were incarcerated in Canada, and many participants similarly were distanced from or didn’t hear about their family’s experience until they were older, if ever. Despite these obstacles, most participants were deeply connected to their family’s experiences and chose to bring sentimental items and Japanese cultural items, things that tied them to their identity and home in some way.

The Suitcase Project is a one-of-a-kind project enabling younger generations to share the stories of their grandparents and great grandparents and imagine in some small way, what they must have felt trying to prepare in the chaos before everyone was forced to leave their homes. Kayla will be presenting The Suitcase Project to the public at the Wing Luke Museum on April 7th, as part of the Never Again is Now program. The National Nikkei Museum is still searching for additional venues to host the exhibition temporarily. Interested parties are encouraged to contact the museum at jcnm@nikkeiplace.org. Excerpts from the exhibition are available online at suitcaseproject.ca.