By now most of us have heard the news: former NYPD officer Peter Liang will serve no jail time for killing Akai Gurley. Liang was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter for accidentally shooting Gurley in a Brooklyn housing project stairwell and then (not accidentally) failing to call for help. On April 19, his conviction was reduced to criminally negligent homicide, for which he was sentenced to five years’ probation. The case has ignited a debate as to whether Liang’s Asian American ethnicity is a privilege that ensured his innocence or a stigma that guaranteed his guilt. It is also a reminder of the enduring and pervasive “model minority” myth. As we collectively wade through these charged debates, we offer a look back at the history of the “model minority.”
May Day is known the world over as a day of worker protest and rebellion. After the bloody Haymarket Riots of 1886, the May 1 holiday became so notorious for its association with anarchy and revolution that the US created an entirely separate holiday (Labor Day) as a more benign celebration of workers. Even so, May Day is still recognized as International Worker’s Day, and so we take this opportunity to pay tribute to Japanese Americans working in the coastal US prior to World War II.
Densho Content Director Brian Niiya reviews Relocating Authority: Japanese Americans Writing to Redress Mass Incarceration by Mira Shimabukuro (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2015). Join the author and Densho Director Tom Ikeda for a reading and conversation on May 5 at Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience. Event information here.
Far too many Americans are completing primary, secondary, and even college education without learning about a critical moment in our shared history: the World War II mass incarceration of 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent. To help remedy this, Densho is hosting a Digital Teach-In from May 1st through 6th.
Baseball season is here again! This favorite of American sports was also a popular pastime in Japanese American concentration camps. Here we delve into that history through an excerpt from Terumi Rafferty-Osaki’s encyclopedia entry on sports in World War II concentration camps. Scroll down for a photo essay and additional baseball resources from Densho Content Director Brian Niiya.
Ruth Asawa is best known for her wizardry in weaving copper wire into enchanting, diaphanous forms. Her work, once at the vanguard of modernist sculpture, is still widely celebrated. This month, Asawa’s gossamer creations are featured in a Los Angeles exhibit of acclaimed women sculptors. But her contributions to the world of art don’t stop at sculpture. In San Franciscio, Asawa’s legend lives on in the form of public art installations, a hard-won legacy of arts education, and in cherished memories of the many artists and arts organizations she worked with.
Mitsuye Endo was a plaintiff in the landmark lawsuit that ultimately led to the closing of the concentration camps and the return of Japanese Americans to the West Coast in 1945. Very little is known about the woman behind the case because she was a very private person–she granted only one interview during the course of her life. Even her own daughter only learned about her mother’s legacy when she was in her twenties.
Toshiko Takaezu (1922-2011) was one of America’s foremost ceramic artists and a highly regarded teacher of ceramics. She was credited with being one of the key figures in the mid-century transformation of ceramics from craft to fine art. In this personal remembrance Sarah Eden Wallace, journalist, dancer, and mother of Densho Special Projects Coordinator Nina Wallace, recalls treasured memories from a decades-long friendship with the artist.
- Rooted in Japanese American Concentration Camps, “Model Minority” became Code for Anti-Black
- Photo Essay: A May Day Tribute to Japanese American Migrant Workers
- How One Woman Shaped the Collective Memory of Japanese American Removal
- Book Review: “Relocating Authority” with the Written Word
- Sign up for the May 2016 Densho Digital Teach-In