Strength and Diversity: Japanese American Women, 1885–1990 (exhibition)


Pioneering traveling exhibition on the experiences of Japanese American women organized by the National Japanese American Historical Society and the Oakland Museum in 1990. Strength and Diversity went on to travel throughout the country as part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) over the next decade plus.

The origins of Strength and Diversity stem from the Smithsonian Institution's A More Perfect Union exhibition (which opened in 1987) and a group of women in the San Francisco Bay Area who sought to expand the Smithsonian's focus on Japanese American men who served in the U.S. Army during the war. The women formed a Women's Exhibition Committee—led initially by Anne Saito Howden, followed by Chizu Iiyama and Alice Nakahata—and unsatisfied with the Smithsonian's response, began working on a separate exhibition in partnership with the National Japanese American Historical Society and the Oakland Museum. Funding for the project came from a grant from the California Council for the Humanities. Initially intending to focus on the wartime incarceration period, they decided to expand the story to cover the entire scope of Japanese American history. Much of the exhibition work—including the collection of objects and photographs, the gathering of some sixty oral histories—was done by volunteers, who were also advised by scholars including Valerie Matsumoto, Jim Hirabayashi, and Jere Takahashi. [1]

Key objects included a Women's Army Corps uniform, plantation worker's clothing from Hawai'i, and craft objects. A centerpiece of the exhibition was a quilt sewed by Nisei and Sansei women called "Threads of Remembrance." Designed by Jan Inouye, work on the quilt began in May 1989 and included scenes from Japanese American women's history from 1885 to the 1980s. Also part of the exhibition was a video titled Japanese American Women: A Sense of Place , directed by Leita Hagemann and written, narrated and co-produced by Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfara. Another by-product of the exhibition was a book, Mei Nakano's Japanese American Women: Three Generations, 1890-1990 (National Japanese American Historical Society and Mina Press, 1990). Strength and Diversity opened at the Oakland Museum on February 17, 1990, and run through May 13. During its run, there were also ancillary public programs that included films, performing arts, dance, and a women writers panel. Historian Alice Yang wrote that, "[r]edefining heroism, Nakano and the other women who created the Strength and Diversity exhibit proclaimed that women who comforted children traumatized by the barbed wire, who cared for elderly parents, and who helped their families cope with the incarceration were important historical figures." Some 30,000 people viewed the exhibition in its original run. It also won a 1991 award from American Association for State and Local History and 1992 Smithsonian Institution Award of Excellence. [2]

Strength and Diversity subsequently traveled to Hawai'i, co-sponsored by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i and the Bishop Museum in 1991. A local committee led by educator Dorothy Hazama substantially reworked the exhibition adding photographs and artifacts from Hawai'i. As Hazama wrote in an accompanying 31-page publication, the group "substantially expanded the thematic storyline with the addition of many unique experiences of Japanese women in Hawai'i. Locally supplemented items included a fascinating array of artifacts, dramatic plantation dioramas, a variety of oral histories a model of a Nisei family store, and many historical photographs." Designed by Bishop Museum designer Dave Kemble, the exhibition opened at the Bishop Museum's Castle Hall on August 1, 1991, running through October 6. The exhibition subsequently traveled to venues in Hilo and Kona on the Island of Hawai'i in 1992 and to Kaua'i in 1993. [3]

Meanwhile, a national tour organized by SITES traveled a streamlined version of the exhibition around the country, including stops at the High Desert Museum in Bend Oregon and Morikami Museum in Delray Beach, Florida, in 1993, the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angles and the Burke Museum at the University of Washington in 1994, the Field Museum in Chicago and Marjorie Barrick Museum at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas in 1995, the Arvada Center in Colorado in 1996 and a return to Honolulu at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i in 1997. A tenth anniversary celebration of Strength and Diversity was held in San Francisco in February 2000. [4]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Adler, Susan Matoba. Mothering, Education, and Ethnicity: The Transformation of Japanese American Culture . New York: Garland Publising, 1998.

Dempster, Brian Komei, ed. Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement . Berkeley, Calif. Heydey Books, 2010.

Murray, Alice Yang. Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress . Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Tonai, Rosalyn. "An Exhibition of Japanese American Women Through Social Networks," presentation at Kwansei Gakuin University, http://leo.aichi-u.ac.jp/~hoshino/Tonai講演.pdf .

Footnotes

  1. Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 398–406; Rosalyn Tonai, "An Exhibition of Japanese American Women Through Social Networks," presentation at Kwansei Gakuin University, accessed on Oct. 24, 2014 at http://leo.aichi-u.ac.jp/~hoshino/Tonai講演.pdf .
  2. Murray, Historical Memories ; Naoko Yoshimura Ito in Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement , edited by Brian Komei Dempster (Berkeley, Calif. Heydey Books, 2010), 75–81; Jane T. Peterson and Suzanne Bennett, Women Playwrights of Diversity: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997), 37; Tonai, "An Exhibition of Japanese American Women."
  3. Karleen Chinen, "Strength and Diversity: JA Women," Hawaii Herald , July 19, 1991, A-8; Dorothy Hazama, Introduction to Strength & Diversity: Japanese American Women in Hawai'i (Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1992, 1.
  4. Hawaii Herald , Jan. 7, 2000, A-4.