"Gaman" is a Japanese term for the act of enduring an unbearable situation with patience and dignity. The word is Buddhist in origin, a virtue of keeping one's mind and self strong and disciplined. It's also the title of the new exhibit at Bellevue Arts Museum, the Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese Internment Camps. On display from now until October 12th, it's a unique collection of folk art, as well as everyday objects and possessions that internees made and kept with them during the 1942-1946 period where Americans of Japanese descent were removed from their homes and relocated in camps throughout the Southwest/Western half of the country. Gaman was a common term used by internees to give them the strength to bear such indignity, and their possessions and creative spirit are relics of our not-so-distant past that should never be forgotten.
It's amazing that some people still don't know that we detained our own citizens during World War II. The fear and anger of the Pearl Harbor attack created an environment of paranoia, facilitating an executive order that rounded up and detained Japanese Americans for the duration of the war. I consider it a blessing that my family was in Hawaii, where the order was exempted, and my parents didn't have to be born behind barbed wire. Because of the high number of Japanese American workers, it would have been economically detrimental to the islands, which is ironic, since this was the site of the initial attack. But prior to, and throughout the internment years, there was no proof of espionage by Japanese Americans; internees were given the chance to fight for the country that wrongfully detained them, and they fought bravely in Europe, receiving high honors upon their return, either posthumously or as veterans. Gaman, from start to finish.
Objects bear an echo of a particular time, maybe even part of the owner's very soul. The pieces in the Gaman exhibit are truly haunted with strong, vibrant spirits who endured a great injustice, and still managed to find beauty amid a desert wasteland. Please take the time to visit this exhibit -- it's not a glimpse of some faraway people or culture, it's very much our own American history, and it deserves to be remembered.
Jaunty Fine Print: Images from the Bellevue Arts Museum