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Exhibit honors service of multicultural GIs

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Pamela Toledo, husband John and daughter Jessica visit Bishop Museum's "Fighting for Democracy: Who Is the 'We' In 'We the People'?"
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Foxhole buddies: The phrase was invented during World War II and the idea embraced by the Hollywood propaganda machine. Americans of all races, creeds, religions and ethnicities served together in combat, and together, shoulder to shoulder, they defeated the horrors of fascist Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

These soldiers, who previously may not have had any contact with other groups, learned that Americans come in all colors. It was, literally, a hard-fought lesson. The murderous racism of the Axis powers threw into high relief our own country’s problems with race and religion. Following the war, the military led the way in creating a colorblind government. Desegregation was the order of the day.

"FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY: WHO IS THE ‘WE’ IN ‘WE THE PEOPLE’?"

What: Traveling exhibit via the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy

Where: Bishop Museum’s Castle Memorial Building

When: Through Jan. 23; 9 to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesday

Information: 847-3511 or www.bishopmuseum.org

 

America still has race and religion problems. Still, it’s difficult to imagine how segregated American society was in the 1940s, and seven decades of hindsight hasn’t mitigated the great irony of America’s role in the war that many of the loyal Americans fighting against fascist oppression were treated as lower-caste citizens in our own country.

"Fighting for Democracy: Who Is the ‘We’ in ‘We the People’?" is a traveling exhibit via the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, now on display through Jan. 23 at Bishop Museum.

Designed by C&G Partners as a traveling adjunct to a larger exhibit at the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles, "Fighting for Democracy" is deceptively simple. It tells the stories of seven hyphenated Americans during the war: Domingo Los Banos, a Filipino-American; Hector Garcia, a Mexican-American; Hazel Ying Lee, a Chinese-American; Carl Gorman, a Navajo-American; Bill Terry, an African-American; George Saito, a Japanese-American; and Frances Slanger, a Jewish-American nurse. Several of these people were killed in front-line duty, including the two women.

The exhibit is set up like a series of pup tents, each featuring video interviews or small documentaries about the subjects. Additional information and pictures are printed on small boards hanging from large hooks, requiring the visitor to actually get hands-on. It’s an interesting way of getting patrons to interact. Along the wall are open footlockers (painted a most unmilitary shade of green) featuring more information about the subjects’ lives prior to the war. For all their differences, their lives were mostly like yours and mine.

"America is a damn good country and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise," wrote Saito, a Los Angeles Boy Scout who was interned in a Japanese-American camp and then joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was killed in France liberating the town of Bruyeres.

There is a lot of reading involved in the "Fighting for Democracy" exhibit, so it might not be suitable for very young children.

 

"Honoring the Legacy"

In the lobby of Central Pacific Bank downtown — a bank founded largely by Japanese-American veterans — there is "Honoring the Legacy," a small exhibit focused on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the nisei 100th Battalion. This is a more traditional exhibit featuring a few artifacts, pictures and wordage. Lots of wordage.

The story of our nisei soldiers from Hawaii probably can’t be told often enough, but be prepared to spend at least a half-hour reading the extremely well-designed posters and informational boxes (created by Kapiolani Community College cybrarian Shari Tamashiro).

Central Pacific Bank’s lobby hours at 220 S. King St. are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Information: 544-0500.

 

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