BY KAYLYN HASLUND
For the UAS Whalesong
On October 8th “Within the Silence”: The story of the Japanese/American Interment during World War II performance came to our university’s Egan lecture hall. It was a multi-media performance that brought history back to life and showed the audience the horror for Japanese American citizens after Pearl Harbor when President Roosevelt issued the Executive Order 9066. With this order many citizens were forced from their homes and saw their lives fall apart simply for being Japanese. This marked one of the darkest times in American history.
It was brought here in hand with The Empty Chair Project, a memorial in downtown Juneau. It symbolizes the seniors of Juneau High school in May 1942 leaving an empty chair for the Japanese-American Valedictorian, John Tanaka who had been taken to the Internment camps. This chair came to honor all those who had been uprooted and forced from their homes. In the Capital School Park sits a single statue of a chair to represent what was lost for the Japanese- American’s and the communities that cherished them.
Ruth Coughlin, who both performed and presented Within the Silence, had only given this story once before in Juneau. Before giving the performance, she gave a quick power point presentation to help show the history leading up to the internment camps. In this power point the audience was able to see the American public slowly demonizing the Japanese community from both Pearl Harbor and racism that had always been there. The situation was only made worse when Executive Order 9066 was given, forcing everyone who was even 1/16th part Japanese into camps.
In the piece she plays Emiko, a Japanese-American who was forced to go to Idaho’s Minidoka Internment Camp. From there it tells the story of a family through all it history at the camp and how it changed their view of America and its ineffective leadership. The story follows Emiko from shortly before the bombs drop, where she lives a normal life in a Japanese community outside of school, to after when she is forced to leave her life behind. In the performance, we learn about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and how many Japanese-Americans joined to prove their loyalty to America.
After the show, the audience was able to learn that apology money was given to the families, to attempt to make for what had happened. These very grants helped make the show, in fact.
In a Q and A session with a few members of the Empty Chair project, the viewers were given heartfelt personal stories of how they themselves had been affected by the Internment camps. It was in the section of the presentation when one of the women said that when 9/11 happened her heart dropped and fear for another batch of internment camps filled her. In this moment, it was realized that our fear alienated those around us who wanted so desperately to be within the American community.
As the event came to a close, it felt like there was a silent plea, for the audience, for everyone to not let this history be forgotten. That it would be so easy for this to happen again and that we cannot let it happen. Many of those who were in the Internment camps didn’t share their stories for nearly forty years, because of fear and the erasure of their voices. No one would listen. With this in mind we have to always remember this history and avoid repeating this mistake.
BY KAYLYN HASLUND