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"Telling Our Stories: Japanese Americans in the San Fernando Valley" Exhibit Coming to Pomona College

A powerful exhibition of oral histories and more than 40 rare photographs of the experiences of Japanese Americans in the San Fernando Valley, “Telling Our Stories: Japanese Americans in the San Fernando Valley 1910s-1960s,” opens at Pomona College on Thursday, Oct. 19.

Approximately 3,200 Japanese Americans, mainly farming families, lived in the San Fernando Valley prior to internment. Unfortunately, many records of their lives were lost or destroyed following the bombing of Pearl Harbor when Japanese Americans were accused of being national enemies and subject to internment by the American government. “Telling Our Stories” is a moving attempt to recover and make known the experiences of Japanese Americans in the San Fernando Valley from before and after internment.

Edith Wen-Chu Chen, a professor at California State University, Northridge, and her students, assembled “Telling Our Stories” as a collaborative project between CSUN and the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center.

When Japanese Americans were ordered out of their Valley homes and into internment camps after the U.S. entry into the war, explained Amy Ikeda, many lost all of their family photos and much of their written history. "They were only allowed to take a couple or so bags each," she said. "So there are lots of pictures documenting the camp periods, but not of their life before internment."

Another reason for the rarity of such records, said Michael Razon, compounds the tragedy of the Nisei wartime experience. "The records were buried or burned by the families," he said. "Because many of their parents were immigrants," added Ikeda, "they didn’t want Americans to think they had ties to Japan."

Their fears were fed by the actions of the FBI. "It was not uncommon at this time that the FBI would go into people’s homes and search through their belongings," Chen said. "So they thought any evidence linking them to Japan furthered this notion that they were the enemy, they were not true Americans."

A reception officially opening the exhibit will take place on October 19, at 4:15 p.m., in the Pomona College Hahn Building (420 N. Harvard Ave., Claremont). The exhibit will remain on display until October 26. The building is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. For more information on this event, co-sponsored by the Pomona College Department of Sociology and the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies, contact (909) 607-2604.

Pomona College, one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions, offers a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.