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February 22, 2020
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140 years of Japanese American History in new exhibit in Cotati

  • These are some of the Japanese American items that will be on display in the Cotati Museum. On the upper left is a case used to pack belongings before entering an internment camp, and just in front of the case are hand tools that were made from scrap materials such as nails while in the camp. Tools like these were used to make some of the intricate wood carvings seen in the case on the right and in the center is a symbolic Samurai Sword, again made from scrap materials.

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
October 26, 2018

On November 4, 1 to 4 p.m., the Cotati Museum and Historical Society is hosting an opening reception in celebration of their new exhibit “Japanese Americans in Cotati.” The free family-friendly event, held in Cotati City Hall and the Miller Community Center, will showcase local speakers, music, artifacts, Japanese refreshments, family activities and demonstrations on origami and brush painting.

“The Japanese have been in Sonoma County since the 1880s, some may have been here as early as the 1870s and I don’t think a lot of people know that,” says Marie McNaughton, one of the Directors of the Cotati Historical Society and one of the people helping create the exhibit and event. “We’ve asked the help of the Japanese community and they’ve provided us with all kinds of donations in terms of household items, some antiques and actual items from the incarceration camps during World War II. It’s covering a rather large swathe of Japanese history.”

The exhibit was the brainchild of sisters Velma DiMeola and Barbara Jean Veronda, who felt it was an important subject of Cotati history to cover. They have memories of being children in Cotati post World War II and had neighbors who were sent away to internment camps. It took about six months to put the exhibit together which covers the last 140 years, up through today showing the lively, thriving Japanese community in Cotati, despite the great rupture in the 1940s. 

“The range is pretty big,” says McNaughton. “The exhibit itself will have different kinds of cases holding collectibles and antiques. Then we also have panel displays where we try to explain different phases of immigration, community being established, the ripping apart of many families after Pearl Harbor and then the incarceration period. There is a lot of information about how they were given two weeks to sell their property, pick up their lives and move to wherever the government sent them. It’s pretty powerful in that way.” 

According to McNaughton, the exhibit, while heartfelt and personal in many ways, is also more political than anything they have put together before. There is a very strong theme of the due process that needed to happen which is also at risk today when it comes to immigration.

“One part of the exhibit will be in the hallway of Cotati City Hall,” says McNaughton. “It is a timeline of legal decisions starting from the Constitution, giving people rights of citizenship, and then going to breaks in those rights, to the days when the government started writing checks for people who had been interned.”

The Historical Society plans to have the exhibit open for about one year, with some items remaining in the permanent collection.