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Riverside Love Story, an Artist-in-Residence Project

RIVERSIDE — Renowned storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki and Emmy Award-winning composer Mark Izu will weave Asian American history, family legend, and humor together in a vibrant celebration of community at the Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave. in Riverside.

Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu

Inspired by the exhibition “Wendy Maruyama: E.O. 9066,” the Bay Area couple will place their focus on the interracial connections (including love stories) around the time of the incarceration and the impact on their descendants today. Because of a long-shared history, they will specifically reach out to the Chicano/Mexicano and Japanese American communities in Riverside.

Artist Wendy Maruyama’s work explores the impact President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 had on her family and other Japanese Americans. The work incorporates objects and imagery that depict the realities of the imprisonment of approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan during World War II.

“E.O. 9066” involves a series of wall-mounted cabinets and sculptures referencing themes common in the camps. This exhibition also showcases six sculptural bundles from Maruyama’s The Tag Project. Consisting of replicas of the paper ID tags that those incarcerated were required to wear when they were being forcibly relocated, the tags were grouped into ten sculptural bundles suspended from the ceiling, each representing one of the camps. They evoke a powerful sense of the humiliation endured and the sheer numbers of those displaced.

Bundles representing the Amache (Coloado), Gila River (Arizona), Tule Lake, Manzanar, Heart Mountain (Wyoming), and Topaz (Utah) camps are being shown at RAM.

“The events and circumstances that led to the Japanese prison camps in the 1940s are strikingly similar to what’s happening now,” said Aoki. “As RAM artists-in-residence, we are meeting with people in the Riverside community to fill out the narrative of the real people represented by the incarceration tags. Two survivors of the prison camps, Michi and Mieko, Nisei ladies in their 80s, came to our DOR (Day of Remembrance) event and told their story before the mostly non-Japanese audience.

“We are hoping more people connected to the tags will come forward and bear witness. The quiet courage of just having survived is powerful and several young people in the audience were shocked that this history was so recent there are still people alive who experienced it.

“We are also interested in relationships developed through farming at the time of the incarceration. One Anglo woman from Indio told me that in her town, all the farmers were black, white, Japanese and Mexican. When the Japanese were taken away, the other farmers took care of their farms, harvested their crops, deposited the proceeds in the little Indio bank, and when the Indio Japanese farmers came back, their farms were waiting for them and they had money in the bank. This story of friendship and loyalty made me cry.

“We need to hear stories like this, especially today. They encourage us and give us strategies for survival. They connect us and together our light is brighter and light banishes the darkness. Join us!”

Upcoming events:

• Milagro, Talisman & Love Stories, A Story Gathering Workshop on Saturday, March 10, from11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. This is an intergenerational workshop culminating in a roundtable sharing of personal stories and artifacts. Participants are asked bring small precious objects that have sustained you during your life. Come prepared to explain how you got them and why they’ve helped you. The purpose of this workshop is to gather personal stories — stories about or that resonate with the Japanese American incarceration; stories of kismet and kindness that go beyond skin color.

• Tales of Love & Resilience: A Site-Specific Performance on Saturday, March 17, at 1 p.m. Taking the community’s stories gathered during the Milagro, Talisman & Love Stories workshop, Aoki and Izu will spread tales of love and resilience that can be used today.

Aoki and Izu are known for such performance pieces as “Kabuki Cabaret,” “Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend,” “Suite J-Town: The Art of Resistance,” and “Aunt Lily’s Flowerbook: 100 Years of Legalized Racism.”

Exhibit-related programming for “Wendy Maruyama: E.O. 9066” was made possible with support from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program at the California State Library.

“Wendy Maruyama: E.O. 9066” will be on view through May 27. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 12 to 4 p.m. For more information, visit

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