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Vol. 71/No. 41      November 5, 2007

S.F. exhibit on Japanese Cubans
before, after revolution
SAN FRANCISCO—The National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS) hosted an opening reception October 6 for a photographic exhibit on a trip taken by Japanese Americans to Cuba to meet with Cubans of Japanese ancestry.

The exhibit, called “Nikkei Reflections: Continuing the Connections Cuban Nikkei,” consists of photos taken during a trip to Cuba that the group Tsukimi Kai organized in December 2006. It was their second visit to the island.

Speaking at the reception, Steve Wake, one of the organizers of the trip, used some of the photos to illustrate the cultural and oral history exchanges with Japanese Cubans.

Japanese Americans and their counterparts in Cuba, of whom there remain 1,300 today, shared a common history, initially as immigrants. Many of them became farmers and fishermen. During World War II they were incarcerated.

In the United States, 112,000 Japanese, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens, were locked up in concentration camps, while in Cuba all Japanese-Cuban men were incarcerated in the Presidio Modelo prison on the Isle of Pines (now the Isle of Youth).

After the 1959 revolution in Cuba, their paths diverged. The Japanese Cubans with whom the group spoke are supporters of the revolution. They said they felt that conditions had improved for them, particularly with free medical care and education, even though Cuba remains part of the underdeveloped world.

Wake pointed out that people in Cuba participate in helping to make important decisions that affect their lives. He said solidarity with others is a way of life in Cuba, in contrast to the United States.

The evocative photos and informative captions give a feel for the life of Japanese Cubans.

Tsukimi Kai members were able to interview a number of Japanese Cubans, including one man who fought in the Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountains with Che Guevara in the 1956-58 revolutionary war. They also spoke with some third generation fishermen, as well as the daughter of one of the people who helped to develop the urban agriculture projects in Havana.

The exhibit is worth seeing to learn about an aspect of Cuban life that is little known. It will be at the NJAHS until December 31.

The historical society is located in San Francisco’s Japantown at 1684 Post St. They are open Monday-Friday, and the first Saturday of the month, from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information call (415) 921-5007.  
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