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Sent Away but Not Forgotten

When OMCA reinstalled its Gallery of California History five years ago, the Sent Away exhibit concerning the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, where over seven thousand Japanese Americans were held before being sent to internment camps, struck a deep chord for many visitors. It had particular resonance for those of Japanese ancestry, many of whom had firsthand knowledge of this dark moment in our history.

For many others, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a largely unfamiliar subject. “We realized we needed to put more emphasis on the emotional temperature and provide more grounding for what happened,” said Suzanne Fischer, OMCA’s associate curator of contemporary history and trends.

The Museum reopened the display on Feb. 27, 2016. The content, which includes photographs and original artwork, has been broadened to further portray the prewar Japanese American experience in California, detailing the effects upon those imprisoned by federal orders.

The exhibit features works by Mine Okubo, a California artist who was incarcerated in Tanforan and Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah, and a vase for ikebana made in Topaz by Haruko Obata.

“We want to display this story in an immersive way, to give visitors a sense of claustrophobia—a sense of what the camps were like,” Fischer said. “We want visitors to not just understand but to have a deep emotional sense of injustice about what was done. And we hope they will reflect on connections to social injustices happening today.”

An earlier version of this story originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Inside Out, the Oakland Museum of California’s Member magazine.