Last week, New Jersey-based Rago Arts and Auction House came under fire with news that they had been consigned by an anonymous seller living in Connecticut to sell a valuable collection of nearly 450 Japanese American incarceration artifacts — most of them commissioned black-and-white photographs and hand-made artpieces created by incarcerees. Many of the pieces were donated to famed art historian Allen H. Eaton with the understanding that he would use them in a public exhibition to draw attention to the injustices of the camp, but not for sale or profit. When Eaton died, the collection was passed down to his daughter before making its way to the family of the anonymous seller who planned to auction the collection piecemeal through Rago on Friday.
As news of the planned sale — which was scheduled for auction on Friday, April 17 — made its way to the public, many within the Japanese American community were understandably outraged. Many within the community (including several who found pictures of relatives, and family heirlooms, within the Eaton collection) spoke out vocally against the sale, which amounted to profiteering off the pain of survivors of American concentration camps. A Facebook-based social media campaign (“Japanese American History: NOT For Sale“) sprung up with the goal of halting Friday’s auction, and to propose an alternative solution to the public sale that would honour the original intent of the collection.
Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation — the group responsible for maintaining the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center at the site of the Heart Mountain incarceration Camp where many of the items in the Eaton collection were obtained — gathered pledges to make a cash offer of $50,000 to Rago Auction House. Bafflingly, that offer was turned down.
It seemed that Friday’s auction would go on as planned until on Wednesday, HMWF notified Rago of their intention to file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the sale, and actor George Takei also independently intervened. By Wednesday evening, Rago announced that the auction of the Eaton collection had been cancelled, and that a resolution would instead be negotiated with representatives of the Japanese American community (including Mr. Takei).
Throughout the unfolding of this story, one thing has remained unknown: the identity of the Eaton Collection’s consigner. Friday evening, the New York Times revealed that the seller is John Ryan, a sales and marketing employee for a credit card company, who lives in Connecticut.
By Guest Contributor: Vanessa Teck (@vanessateck)
Many children grow up hearing fantastical tales and listening to nursery rhymes. A magical forest here and furry talking creatures there. I grew up listening to the nightmares of chaos and terror as tragedy consumed Cambodia.
On April 17th, 1975, Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge. Like many Khmer Americans, my family came to the United States as refugees from Cambodia in 1982. My grandparents reflect back on the day the Khmer Rouge scoured the city and announced over their loud speakers that the Americans were going to begin dropping their bombs. Greeting the citizens with smiles, they expressed that safety was their priority and all those living within the city should evacuate to the countryside. They promised that the invasion would be over and they would be able to return to the city. Yet, it would be four years of terror before any lucky survivors would be able to return to the remains of their homes. My family had no choice but to abandon all of their belongings and at that precise moment, their entire lives.
Model Chrissy Teigen (@chrissyteigen) is making headlines this week after she described on Twitter a random encounter she had with an anonymous racist in West Hollywood. Teigen — who is biracially Thai American — tweeted a description of the incident to her over 700,000 followers (after the jump) on April 16.
The national Lao American Symposium and Writers Summit — titled “Our Shared Journey” — is being held this year, marking the first-ever national Lao American symposium, and the second meeting of the national Lao American Writers Summit five years after it took place in 2010.
Asian American Press reports that over a hundred Lao American artists, writers and community leaders will gather tomorrow in Minneapolis, Minnesota to explore Lao American history and identity, on the 40th anniversary of the first arrival of Lao Americans to the United States in 1975. Lao Americans arrived as refugees from Laos and other wartorn parts of Southeast Asia heavily disrupted by the violence of the Vietnam War, a civil war strongly influenced by US military intervention. Heavily bombed by US military forces between 1964 and 1974, Laos remains the most bombed country per capita in the history of the world. This violence led to the displacement of over 700,000 Lao refugees, including 400,000 who relocated to the United States. Today, Minnesota is home to the third largest community of Lao Americans in the country.
The conference is the first time many prominent Lao American writers, scholars, artists and advocates will be able to congregate in a single place to discuss the Lao American experience and Lao Diaspora. It also falls upon the 20th anniversary of the creation of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project, which the organizers say was responsible for “creating some of the very first collections of Lao literature since the end of the war in [their] own words”.
Twenty minutes ago, the Japanese American organizers behind the #StopRago campaign (which I wrote about earlier today), announced via their Facebook page that Rago auction house had decided to remove the lots containing approximately 450 artifacts from Japanese American incarceration. This move came after nearly a week of heated backlash from the Japanese American community who object to Friday’s scheduled auction of familial heirlooms and artifacts donated under the promise of creating an exhibit on Japanese American experiences in World War II concentration camps. Friday’s planned sale amounted to profiteering on the pain of Japanese American camp survivors.
The #StopRago group announced that these efforts were victorious. Moments ago, a Rago company spokesman said at the auction house’s offices in Lambertville, New Jersey that the artifacts will no longer be sold this Friday. Instead, actor and outspoken advocate for the preservation of Japanese American history George Takei will serve as an intermediary between the Rago auction house and various Japanese American museums, advocacy groups and families interested in the items.