It may be too late to say ‘Happy New Year,’ but it is the perfect time to congratulate the Institute of Museum and Library Services 2011 National Medal winners. This year ten institutions have been recognized for excellence in this field. As part of the National Medal award, each organization receives three recording days with StoryCorps. Luckily for my co-facilitator and I, our first trip brought us to sunny Los Angeles, CA, to the Japanese American National Museum. Not only was the trip a welcome respite from the cold New York weather, but also the stories of the volunteers and staff of the museum are an important part of a history that many have forgotten.
During World War II, the United States government removed thousands of Japanese families from their homes in California, Washington, Oregon and several other states and sent them to internment camps for the duration of the war. Allowed to take only minimal possessions, families were sent as far away as Minnesota and Arkansas. Many families never returned to their original homes. Determined to preserve this little known history, a group of grassroots activists started the Japanese American National Museum in 1985.
Over the last twenty-six years, the museum has evolved to not only includes stories and exhibitions of the Issei and Nisei (the first and second generation of Japanese Americans, respectively), but also works to create bridges with diverse communities in an effort to tell the full American story. It was a privilege to record the stories of staff and volunteers who breathe life into the museum’s mission everyday.
After the break, read about how the museum became one couple’s matchmaker.
Over ten years ago, Richard Murakami retired and found himself with a lot of time on his hands. Aware of the history of the Japanese Americans because of his own family’s time spent in an internment camp, Richard decided to volunteer as a museum docent giving tours to visitors and school groups. It was at the museum that he met Masako. When it became apparent that they were both jazz aficionados, Masako invited Richard to a three-day jazz festival and their relationship developed from there.
However, Richard remembers that he had to meet the expectations of Masako’s longtime friends before they could get married. “When I went up there with the girlfriends, I told them. I said, ‘I know that I have to go through the gauntlet.’ We got to know each other pretty well. I felt comfortable there. It wasn’t like meeting someone for the first time. They were all very nice. For me it was a very enjoyable evening.” Richard passed the test and the couple have been married for fourteen years and continue to volunteer their time to the museum, passing along the story of Japanese Americans to a new generation.