The following letter was sent by members of the Japanese American community to David Rago, Suzanne Perrault and Miriam Tucker of Rago Arts & Auction on April 13.
We have learned that Rago Arts & Auction will put up for sale 450 prisoner craft objects, personal items, artworks and heritage artifacts from the Japanese American concentration camps of WWII in Lots 1232-1255 on April 17.
These items were given — not sold — to the original collector, Allen H. Eaton, under the assumption that they would be shown in an exhibition to tell the story of the mass, illegal incarceration.
“They offered to give me things to the point of embarrassment, but not to sell them,” Eaton wrote in his 1952 book, “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese In Our War Relocation Camps.” Eaton was opposed to the mass incarceration and devoted himself to gathering examples of the creations that emerged from the camps, planning for a future exhibition and photographic display.
He received official support toward what was meant to be a public project, not the creation of a private collection. Selling these treasures of Japanese American heritage would contravene Eaton’s original intent.
The auctioning of our cultural property — handmade and donated by men, women and children whom their own government held against their will — is wrong. There is no time before the auction to properly examine issues including provenance, ethics, and the propriety of disposing of our cultural patrimony by selling it off to the highest bidder.
We request that you pull these lots from the auction and delay the sale until a proper examination can be undertaken.
Auctioning these cultural products of the forced removal and incarceration is akin to auctioning Holocaust property, slave shackles, and Native American spiritual artifacts. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Locke, Calif., “right of first refusal,” enacted against California’s Alien Land Laws, sought to rectify similar abuses.
Placing this historical heritage on the auction block sullies the reputations of both Eaton’s descendants and Rago Arts. The pending sale of these donated objects has caused anguish and outrage in our community, which is being expressed in letters, petitions, news coverage and a Facebook page, “Japanese American History: NOT for Sale,” www.facebook.com/japaneseamericanhistorynotforsale.
Our community’s goal is to educate and correct, not to vilify or cast blame. We urge you to pause the rush to auction, in the spirit of making this right for everyone.
Ad Hoc Committee to Oppose the Sale of Japanese American Historical Artifacts
Satsuki Ina, Ph.D., professor emeritus, CSU Sacramento
Chizu Iiyama, Japanese American redress movement leade
Laura Iiyama, community advocate
Nancy Ukai Russell, journalist
Barbara Takei, preservationist/historian
Dale Minami, Minami Tamaki LLP
Tom Ikeda, executive director, Densho
Yoshinori H.T. Himel, attorney
Emiko Omori, filmmaker, “Rabbit in the Moon”
Chizu Omori, columnist, filmmaker, “Rabbit in the Moon”
The Tule Lake Committee Inc.
The Manzanar Committee
Japanese American Citizens League, Honolulu Chapter
Japanese American Citizens League, San Francisco Chapter
Nicole Gaddie, JACL national youth Chair
Judy Hamaguchi, co-president, San Francisco JACL
Janice Luszczak, co-president, Sacramento JACL
Roberta Barton, governor, Central California District Council, JACL
Paul Osaki, executive director, Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California
Sacramento CAPITAL Foundation
Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director, Fred T. Korematsu Institute
Laura Kina, Ph.D., Vincent de Paul Professor of Art, Media and Design, DePaul University
Soji Kashiwagi, executive producer/writer, Grateful Crane Ensemble
Nancy Araki, director emeritus, community affairs, Japanese American National Museum
Art Hansen, Ph.D., professor emeritus, oral history and Asian American studies, CSU Fullerton
Aggie Idemoto, Ed.D., president, Japanese American Museum of San Jose
Tetsuden Kashima, Ph.D., professor, American Ethnic Studies Department, University of Washington
Roger Daniels, Ph.D., Charles Phelps Taft Professor Emeritus of History, University of Cincinnati
Greg Robinson, Ph.D., associate professor of history, l’Universite du Quebec at Montreal
Janice Mirikitani, founding president, Glide Foundation, and second poet laureate of San Francisco
Frank Abe, journalist, filmmaker, “Conscience and the Constitution”
Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig, archivist and researcher for Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians
Don Hata, Ph.D., emeritus professor of history, CSU Dominguez Hills
Lane Hirabayashi, Ph.D., Asian American Studies Department, UCLA
David Yoo, Ph.D., director and professor, Asian American Studies Center and Department, UCLA
Vivienne R. (Lie) Schiffer, Thompson & Knight LLP, filmmaker/author
Franklin S. Odo, Ph.D., Amherst College
Roger Shimomura, distinguished professor of art emeritus, University of Kansas
Hatsuko Mary Higuchi, artist
Cherstin M. Lyon, Ph.D., associate professor of history, CSU San Bernardino
Garrett Hongo, distinguished professor of the College of Arts & Sciences, University of Oregon
Noriko Sanefuji, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History
Phil Tajitsu Nash, Asian American Studies Program, University of Maryland
Evelyn Nakano Glenn, professor, ethnic studies and gender & women’s studies, UC Berkeley
Michael Omi, professor, ethnic studies and Asian American & Asian diaspora studies, UC Berkeley
Claudia Nakano, Utah Governor’s Office of Minority Issues
Barbara Johns, Ph.D., art historian, curator, author
Renee Tajima-Peña, director, center for EthnoCommunications, Endowed Chair in Japanese American Studies, UCLA
Jill Shiraki, Preserving California’s Japantowns
Stan Shikuma, Seattle Kokon Taiko
Gail M. Nomura, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of American Ethnic Studies, University of Washington
Stephen H. Sumida, Ph.D., professor, Department of American Ethnic Studies, University of Washington
Mitchell T. Maki, vice provost, academic affairs, CSU Dominguez Hills
Eiichiro Azuma, Ph.D., Alan Charles Kors Term Chair Associate Professor of History, director of Asian American Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Robert Rusky, attorney, San Francisco
Karen Kai, attorney, San Francisco
Diane Matsuda, board member, Japantown Foundation, former program director, California Civil Liberties Public Education Program
Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee: Dale Watanabe, Gloria Shigeno, Stephen Kitajo, De-Nice Quach, Keith Yamaguchi, Ryan Kozu, Anna Tamura, Emily Hanako Momohara, Jamie Ford