By David Yamaguchi, The North American Post. Photos by Eugene Tagawa
Over the weekend of July 16-19, public artist Erin Shigaki completed a new local Japanese-American history mural. This one recognizes the 449 students whose University of Washington studies were disrupted by Executive Order 9066, the March 1942 proclamation that forced them into incarceration camps for years. Many would never complete their university educations, owing to the dire financial straits the removal caused.
The mural’s photo is of Asian American students at an autumn 1941 conference, many of whom would fall under the 1942 order. The university recognized the injustice and historic significance of the E.O., including UW President Lee Paul Sieg. Nonetheless, other than transferring 58 students to inland universities beyond the “exclusion zone,” the school was unable to stop it. It occurred at West Coast campuses from Vancouver, B.C. (who copied the U.S.) to Los Angeles.
In the mural’s posted explanation, Erin writes,
“The story of the UW Nikkei students of 1941-1942 is… of this local community and… has been under-told, under-taught, and erased. It spotlights the critical importance of those who are targeted and allies alike in being vigilant, speaking up, and defending the civil liberties of all, at all times.
“This story is also linked to this moment’s rise in anti-Asian racism stirred by the 45th U.S. president and those who wish to hold onto America’s supremacist systems.
“In this mural, the students are surrounded by vibrant wave and cloud forms that symbolize both despair and resilience, destruction and renewal. Placed on top of the patterns of movement, are flowers with important symbolism across Asian and Pasifika cultures: cherry blossom, peony, soursop, lotus, plumeria.
“These are in remembrance of those who have suffered from anti-Asian violence and harm….”