Keiko Fitz-Earle is pleased the internment of Japanese-Canadians in World War Two will finally be represented at Nelson’s Touchstones museum.
“This discrimination should never occur again,” she says. “This will make people aware that we are all humans.”
Missing Voices profiles local people whose histories or experiences have yet to be represented at the collection.
The 15 individuals each have their own under-two-minute video made by Watershed Productions.
Fitz-Earle, one of the 15, says her generation of Japanese-Canadians don’t have any adult memories of the Second World War internment camps, several of which existed in the Slocan Valley.
Japanese Canadians and other Canadians all need education about how internees were treated, she says.
“They were Canadian, that’s the important part,” she says. “They were Canadian citizens.”
In the video, she sits an an outdoor table on her peaceful rural property, making an origami swan, telling us this story:
I was born in Japan and moved to Canada with my mother and brother when I was 13. We lived with my grandmother. I didn’t speak a word of English. I missed my friends. During World War II, my grandparents, uncle and aunt, were interned in camps along with over 20 thousand people of Japanese ancestry.
Like most, my grandparents were Canadian citizens. My grandfather was one of 12,000 people who worked in the interior of B.C. He died in the New Denver camp a broken man. My grandmother reluctantly talked about her internment experience. My uncle and aunt, who were forced to relocate to Toronto, were traumatized by the experience and refused to visit B.C. ever.
The Japanese internment in the Interior is missing from this [museum] collection. We need to acknowledge the history. We belong here. This origami crane symbolizes peace, hope, and healing, which are my sincere wishes.
Touchstones executive director Astrid Heyerdahl says the museum (as opposed to the gallery) has not changed since it opened in 2006.
Even though there were no internment camps in Nelson, historical events from neighbouring areas “really affect who we are as a community, so to not speak directly to Japanese internment in the museum is a huge void.”
She said she and Bohigian asked their participants to tell Touchstones how it could do better as a museum. What could the museum do to make them feel they are somehow represented there?
“We invited people to call us out,” Heyerdahl says, “and this is an important small first step in our work to be truly relevant and to actually respond and create systemic change in an organization like a museum [with its] colonial historical associations.”
She said it will take years of fundraising and planning to re-do the museum, and this video project is a short-term rectification.
“We said, ‘How can we change this, now?’”
But she emphasizes that the videos are just a beginning.
Basil Fuller welcomes the video that depicts him with his 18-wheel truck on a West Kootenay highway. Here’s what he says in his video:
I emigrated from Jamaica directly to the Kootenays in 2013.
Back in Jamaica I had my own trucking company. Racism was only a story I heard about like in a book when I lived in Jamaica. But when I got to Canada it got very real. I saw people being afraid of me. Once someone even asked to touch my skin.
I’m known as the Jamaican Ambassador. I have helped hundreds of immigrants get their trucking licence. I have been driving since 1995.
Folks like me who are labourers, immigrants, people of colour, we deserve a place in the museum. I don’t want any more fear, I just want unity. We belong here.
Amy Bohigian of Watershed Productions says she does not intend the 15 subjects to perfectly represent particular groups or experiences.
“That would be false because no one person can represent an entire group, but the people we did connect with were really great fits for the project.”
She says the project is a gathering of community stories.
“I really respect Astrid for opening this up for people other than the people who usually have the microphone of history. Let’s be inclusive, lets pass the microphone. That is why I felt called to do this. This is a great beginning.”
All 15 videos can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/498002197.