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HomeArticlesChandler museum brings to life bleak lessons of history with "Gaman" exhibit

Chandler museum brings to life bleak lessons of history with “Gaman” exhibit

Photo of Gila River Internment Camp courtesy of Chandler Museum.

It’s a dilemma every parent has faced: How does one talk to kids about important societal issues, such as racial discrimination? Here’s an idea you may not have considered: Visit a museum.

When the Chandler Historical Society helped open the Chandler Museum in December, its mission was to provide history that’s relevant today. One current exhibit — on view through April 18, 2020 — is “Gaman: Enduring Japanese American Internment at Gila River.”

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, a mass hysteria erupted in the United States toward Japanese Americans, who were accused of being spies and saboteurs. Fictional accounts were published, accusing American citizens of Japanese descent of plotting against the United States.

The seeds of racism had already been planted with the idea of the “Yellow Peril” — a fear that the Anglo population along the western coast of the United States would be overtaken by “non-Christians, lacking basic morality and detrimental to societal norms,” according to the Chandler museum’s exhibit. The populations were also accused of taking jobs from “real” Americans.

This fear reached a fever pitch with Executive Order 9066, which directed the forced removal of 120,000 Japanese American citizens from their homes, incarcerated them without due process and placed them in isolated areas — one of which was the Gila River Internment Camp just south of Chandler. At its height, The Gila River encampment, which existed from 1942 to 1945, imprisoned 16,665 American citizens.

The exhibit is called Gaman (gah-mahn), a Japanese word meaning “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.” The installation shows the struggles and harsh conditions prisoners had to endure, and provides insights into the resilience of people who chose to rise above their difficult circumstances and reclaim their dignity.

Jody Crago, museum administrator, says the goal was to start a conversation: “Although the exhibit takes on a challenging topic, it’s also an opportunity to have a discussion about what it means to be a citizen and to learn how we can do things differently in similar situations today.”

The museum is located at 305 S. Chandler Village Drive and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Family activities are offered 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. The March 30 family program includes storytime featuring children’s books about life at the internment camp, and kids can make origami paper cranes and pack a suitcase. 480-782-2717 or

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