We all knew it would come to this, didn’t we?
Last night, Trump supporter Carl Higbie, a former spokesperson for the Great America PAC, appeared on Fox News’ The Kelly File to defend the Trump administration’s plans to create a national registry of Muslims. When challenged about the unconstitutionality of such a plan, Higbie declared that the proposed registry had legal precedent, highlighting Japanese American incarceration as an example (video after the jump).
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.
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.
That stuff is not actually the stuff I wanted to write about today. Today, I wanted to write about today’s Day of Remembrance: 73 years ago today, Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Executive Order 9066 authorized the eventual round-up and forcible incarceration of Japanese Americans — based solely on their racial similarity to citizens of a country with whom we were at war — in the nation’s largest coordinated concentration camp effort (learn more about the JACL’s 2010 resolution and campaign to target the words we use to refer to this period in our history).
Japanese Americans — American citizens by birthright — were imprisoned under grueling and inhumane conditions in repurposed racing tracks and stadiums, and later in the middle of the desert. These Japanese Americans and their foreign-born parents (who were denied the right to naturalize as Americans based also on their race) were treated with suspicion of disloyalty. Their possessions were stolen. Children grew up under gunpoint.