MUSEUM BLOG: Why does history matter at all?

Forgive me while I get up on my soap box for just a moment. Typically I stay far away from anything even remotely political in my blog. But I cannot stay quiet about this — here’s why:

For several months, we have been deep into the development and facilitation of our current exhibit “What If Heroes Were Not Welcome Home?” The displays are based on the recently published book by the same name, written by popular author Linda Tamura. The exhibit is on tour from the Oregon History Museum in Portland and will be at the Hood River history museum until Feb. 26.

There are several components to this interpretive exhibit, including updates and additions to our permanent displays on the Japanese-American experience in Hood River County, both before World War II and after. So, we’ve had months of reading, researching and planning to make the visitors’ experience to the museum as rich and meaningful as possible in relation to this topic and the overall topic of racial prejudice and discrimination.

So forgive me for a moment if I share a bit of my incredulity when I read an article recently about a store (not in Oregon) that posted a sign stating “if you voted for , your business is not welcome at _.”

Now, I am purposely leaving off the names that go in the blanks because this blog is not about any particular political party agenda or stand; it’s about humanity and our responsibility as members of the community of the world.

When I saw this come across Facebook, I was shocked. I almost couldn’t believe it, as it reminded me so much of the “NO _ WANTED” signs that hung in many local businesses and businesses across the state after World War II. It was the time when Japanese-American families that had been incarcerated tried to return to their homes — many of which were gone.

The article went on to say that a full-page ad had been purchased and published in the local newspaper to inform people of the new policy. All I can say is WOW.

Again, it reminded me of the full-page ad that was placed in the Hood River County Sun on Feb. 9, 1945. The banner at the top of the ad says “_ ARE NOT WANTED IN HOOD RIVER.” Signed by 475 residents of Hood River County, the ad goes on to state that “__ will find it difficult, if not impossible, ever to operate in Hood River again.”

So I ask again, why does history matter? Listening in as hundreds of visitors walk through this exhibit, I am struck by how many people read some of the text on the display panels and say “I had no idea this happened!” Or “How could people have done this to others just because of their ethnic background?”

History matters so that we can learn about issues such as the incarceration and treatment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s and hopefully not repeat it. I’m sure that museums and historical institutions across America would echo my sentiment and fill in the blanks to read “African Americans” or “Native Americans” or ?

Museums have an obligation and responsibility to preserve the stories of our communities. They should tell the good stories about moments of success and happiness, but also the sad stories that tell of racial tension and blatant discrimination. The museum experience should be presented with facts and invite the visitor to form their own reaction.

I am confident that guests to “What If Heroes Were Not Welcome Home?” are leaving our building with a new and deeper understanding of a largely ignored topic. I sincerely hope that as they encounter racism and discrimination in our community that they will remember what they saw here and be willing to stand up and say “enough!”

For the close to 200 people who attended our opening program on Jan. 12 where we honored citizens of Hood River County who had the guts and desire to stand up against the hundreds crying for the removal of Japanese Americans from Hood River County, I know that you get what I’m saying.

We must preserve these stories. We must display and share these stories. We must remember and talk about them, encourage others to be informed and pass them on to our children. We must not forget our history, so that we can avoid the mistakes made in previous generations. We must take a stand. That’s why history matters.

If you have not had a chance to visit the exhibit yet, please take time before it is gone to its next location.

That’s all for now. From my desk (soapbox) … Connie Nice.

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