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3. Japanese American National Museum

Press Contact: Sarah Carle, 213-830-5670

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Paul Takemoto, Community Member; Akemi Kikumura Yano, Ph.D., Director; and Mrs. Obama.
Pictured: Paul Takemoto, Community Member; Akemi Kikumura Yano, Ph.D., Director; and Mrs. Obama. Click image to access high-resolution version.

The Japanese American National Museum explores American history through the lens of Japanese American experiences, emphasizing the importance of understanding and appreciating all American diversity. Established in 1985, the museum’s mission is to promote understanding by sharing the experiences of Japanese Americans.

Beginning in 1942, thousands of Japanese Americans were expelled from their homes on the West Coast and parts of Hawai`i, and sent to detention camps across the country for the remainder of World War II. This tragic event indelibly shaped the Japanese American experience and, by extension, the work of the museum located in Los Angeles.

Through the museum’s programming, people of all backgrounds—even those who do not identify as multiracial—are able to embrace their common humanity. Exhibits engage and educate the diverse Los Angeles community, including 25,000 students annually, by appealing to the complex feelings triggered by identifying with more than one race, a struggle understood by many Japanese Americans.

U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34) "For more than 25 years, the Japanese American National Museum has demonstrated that a grassroots community organization can fulfill its educational mission both nationally and even internationally. At its core, the museum preserves the story of Americans of Japanese ancestry as an integral part of U.S. history, but its ability to share that story with other communities in an open and collaborative manner enriches us all. For example, the Boyle Heights Project focused on the history of Los Angeles’ first multicultural neighborhood, and brought together representatives from the Latino, African American, Jewish and Japanese American communities, among others, to share their collective past. The National Medal, the highest honor of its kind, is appropriate recognition for the Japanese American National Museum and I commend the Institute of Museum and Library Services on its selections for 2010."

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard nominated the museum for this award.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA) "The Japanese American National Museum is a wonderful success story, created and sustained by a community that refuses to let its story be forgotten. The rich history of Japanese Americans isn’t well known, but it’s an important one that can teach us a great deal. If we’re to understand another culture, we have to try to see the world through its people’s eyes, and the museum helps us do that. The National Medal for Museum and Library Service is a fine honor for the great work being done at the Japanese American National Museum."

Community Member Paul Takemoto
Experience of being Japanese American transformed
For Paul Takemoto, being Japanese American has been a transformative journey – from shame to pride, as a result of his connection with the Japanese American National Museum. He remembers growing up wishing he was "anything other than Japanese American."

Paul first learned about the work of the museum at its national conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2004, which he attended as "the dutiful son" at the request of his mother and other family members. About 1300 people attended panel discussions by historians, professors, and former inmates of the World War II camp sites, and participated in bus trips to two sites. Paul and his mother visited the camp in Jerome, Arkansas, one of the most impoverished areas of the country at the time, where she was incarcerated at the age of 15.

As a third-generation Japanese American born and raised in Maryland, Paul did not think that the conference would be of any interest. But the trip initiated personal growth and understanding of his Japanese American heritage. For his mother and family, a healing process could begin around a family tragedy, rarely discussed at all and never in detail. Paul’s mother said she always felt like "she must have done something wrong."

Enlightened and engaged by his experiences, Paul has become one of the museum’s most ardent supporters. He lives in the Washington, DC area and works for the Federal Aviation Administration.