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Speakers, exhibit reflect on Japanese American experience of internment

by Sherry Fisher - February 4, 2008

On Feb. 19, the University’s 2008 Day of Remembrance will feature two speakers: Somdatta Mandal and Delphine Hirasuna.

Visiting professor Somdatta Mandal, associate professor of English at Visva Bharati, the university founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, will discuss internment through literature at 2 p.m. at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

Hirasuna, author of the book The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese-American Internment Camps, 1941-1946, and guest curator of the current exhibition (with the same title) at the William Benton Museum of Art, will speak at 4 p.m. at the Benton.

It was on Feb. 19, 1942, that President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, leading to the mass removal and detention of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry in prison camps between 1941 and 1946. In 1988, the U.S. government enacted legislation calling for an apology and partial compensation to survivors of the camps.

During World War II, young detainees were given the option of staying in the camps or attending college.

But nationwide, there was strong anti-Japanese sentiment, and many universities refused to enroll them.

UConn was the only university in Connecticut that accepted students from the camps.

The Art of Gaman showcases arts and crafts made by those who were interned in camps in California, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Arkansas.

The exhibit, featuring some 200 objects made primarily from scrap and found materials, shows the wide range of artistic activities at the camps.

It includes carved animals, teapots, brooches, walking sticks, painted boxes, and other decorative objects.

“The exhibit demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit through creativity,” says Steven Kern, director of the Benton.

In Japanese, the word gaman means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.”

The Art of Gaman was first held at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk Art. The touring exhibition has been organized by the Benton Museum and the Oregon Historical Society, in collaboration with the National Japanese American Historical Society.

The Benton exhibit, which runs through March 30, is made possible with the support of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism and the Nathan Hale Inn and Conference Center, and in partnership with UConn’s Asian American Cultural Center, the Asian American Studies Institute, and the Foundations of Humanitarianism program.

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