Lasting Impressions: A Trip To The New Americans Museum
It was crisp and windy down the gray path to the opening of the building. Along the wide corridor off to the side of the building, remained a few wild, lush green bushes, sprinkled almost deliberately with delicate flowers of different characteristics, accents and types.
In the distance, a lone American flag could be seen, swaying in slow motion above the words, “New Americans Museum.” Unknowingly, this provided the perfect backdrop for what was about to come.
There are two separate galleries included in the museum: an exhibition gallery on one side, and a community gallery on the other. To the left, the exhibition gallery is filled with cultural artifacts and treasured possessions of Japanese-Americans from the internment camps.
In bold print across a black and white photo of a weeping little girl, the words are deafening: “Their only crime was being Japanese-American.” Walking further inside the museum, a description of the mission stood out: “Our museum was created to celebrate and document the contributions of all immigrants into the American narrative.”
Strolling through, there is a makeshift theater set up with a projector playing interviews with Japanese-American internment camp survivors. Two benches for public viewing lay sprawled in front of the projector, complete with boxes of tissues.
Against the back wall is a designated “Reflection Space,” painted in all red, the color of power no less, where patrons can sit and gather their thoughts. To the right of the red reflecting area is a table filled with a medley of books encompassing the era, ranging from children’s books, to history texts.
The words in even bigger font, this time in red, can be seen plastered above the books for one final, lasting note: “Their only crime was being Japanese American.”
The community gallery is just as powerful, but a lot more interactive. Walking in, one word can sum up the initial perspective: “American.”
The Statue of Liberty greets patrons at the entrance, with an enormous Bill of Rights diagram placed purposely at the forefront of the gallery. The entire exhibition is cloaked in an array of red, white, and blue décor.
Hung up in black-paned, see-through frames are newspaper articles with headlines announcing the deaths of different presidents. Lyndon B. Johnson, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Mckinley, Roosevelt, Wilson, and Truman line the right corner of the exhibition with their sensational death tributes.
Toward the left side of the exhibition is where it gets personal. In huge, black, handwritten writing, it says: “Share Your Thoughts On Immigration.” Below are the community’s stories, written in an assortment of different colored markers.
On the wall opposite to that, a similar handwritten sign poses the question: “What Does It Mean To Be An American?” A few words stand out in deliberate red ink: “We are all immigrants.”
Plastered on the wall amid all the beautiful recollections of what being an American means, is a typed up document straight from the New Americans Museum. The first line hits too close to home.
It reads, “This past Sunday morning in daylight, a hate crime took place at the New Americans Museum when signage was defaced with anti-immigrant-biased statements: “‘Too much immigration! Go back to your country. This one is ours!’”
The executive director of the museum, Linda Caballero Sotelo, signed the document, and left her phone number as a contact for anyone with further questions on the incident. Still, surrounded by beautiful quotes and hope-filled words from the community, the words “Love Trumps Hate” stood out.
Situated plainly in the middle of the exhibition was a bright “Tree of Hope.” The wooden tree fixture is covered in printed photos, displaying students holding personal quotes on pieces of printer paper.
One girl with a fierce stare holds a sign that reads, “She never hesitated, never wondered if she would grow sad or lonely in this new place, she only worried for her children, something every mother can understand.”
As Americans, once we start to embrace our differences, that’s the beginning of understanding how similar we actually are. Linda Caballero Sotelo wrote, “Our Nation was indeed founded by immigrants and their children, and in a strange and perhaps ‘un elegant’ way, nothing could be more ‘American’ than that shared experience.”
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