Wakasa monument unearthing a ‘slap in the face’

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To All Concerned,

Despite the personal request of a decades long financial supporter of the Topaz Museum to fund a ceremonious, archivally professional excavation of the long buried stone monument, Jane Beckwith (Museum Director), the very next business day, hired her trash haulers to dig up and move it to her private museum.

That personal request came from me. My whole family was incarcerated in Topaz, my brother and I were born there. I was delighted and surprised to hear the story of Nancy Ukai’s discovery of the original diagram showing its whereabouts. Then two professional archeologists, on their own time, went to Topaz and, using their professional expertise, located the spot where Mr. Wakasa had been shot while walking his dog. The precise location where inmates had placed and then had to bury the memorial stone. I wrote to Jane:

Dear Jane,
… When I read about its discovery by Nancy Ukai and Jeff Burton, I was personally moved. We very much want to participate in the lifting of the monument to an upright position, to see what is on the face down side, presumably its front. It will be an emotional, spiritual, and historical moment. I’ll never forget when you toured us around the site, so many years ago.
Some of us would like to attend. Will you please tell us the schedule? I’d love to have a video made, which can become a part of the display/documentation at the Topaz Museum. As you know, it’s important that qualified archaeologist(s) are involved throughout the process so that information is not lost. If you need additional funds for this, just let us know. As always, we support the Topaz Museum, and look forward to having this Monument and its history as part of its installations. …

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I was so enthusiastic I e-mailed Jane with the offer to fund what for us Japanese Americans would be an emotional, spiritual, and historic excavation. Who knows, there might even be something written or carved into the front of the stone, so a video should be made of the event.

It felt like a slap in the face when Jane simply e-mailed me and Nancy the “update” that she had hauled the stone away that morning. She said two videographers were there but no archeologists nor any Japanese Americans.

And by the way, a 14-member group met with her, the Topaz Museum’s Jane Beckwith, to collaborate on this shortly after the discovery in 2020, last year. They included Park Service professionals, Japanese Americans, and archeologists, who recommended the stone be left in the ground for further study (as I understand it). Jane did not consult or collaborate with any of them either, before having it yanked up and hauled away.

It is a good thing that there is a museum to educate the public about Topaz, and Jane Beckwith has made that happen, with a lot of support from my family and countless other Japanese Americans, plus a lot of public funds. But the museum and the site of the camp should, like all other Japanese American concentration camps I know of, be part of the Parks Service program. The museum needs museum quality stewardship.

I fear for the Wakasa Monument and its sad story. It is our sad story, and I hate to see it manhandled. Let’s end this upset by agreeing to mark the death of Mr. Wakasa on the 80th anniversary of his murder on the site, in 2023, and by donating the Wakasa stone monument itself to an archival National Museum, like the Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles, which works under the umbrella of the Smithsonian, I believe.

This is not a roadside attraction. It is the most valuable physical evidence of the unfairness of our incarceration ever found. It deserves respect and preservation by professionals.

Masako Takahashi
Takahashi Family Foundation

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