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DOWNTOWN : Exhibit Brings Back Painful Memories

November 13, 1994|BRETT MAHONEY

Seeing the reconstructed guard tower standing in Little Tokyo gives Sue Kunitomi Embrey the same chill it gave her in 1943, when she entered the Manzanar internment camp in Northern California.

For Embrey, who was 19 years old then, it meant that "something not very good was about to happen." Her freedom was being taken away.

The guard tower and the barracks, across the street from the Japanese American National Museum, are a featured part of this weekend's "Family Expo: Sharing the Japanese American Legacy," whose primary location is the Los Angeles Convention Center.

More than 90 groups from all over California have been invited to present their piece of the Japanese American Legacy. This is the first time the museum has sponsored an event of this size, and organizers hope that more than 10,000 people will have visited by 5 tonight when the event ends.

"This is the largest gathering of Japanese American history and culture under one roof," said Chris Komai of the Japanese American Museum.

The attractions at the expo were intended to represent the spectrum of the Japanese American experience: musicians playing traditional instruments like the koto, the group Hiroshima jamming their own jazz fusion, demonstrations of origami and calligraphy, and a fashion show featuring the creations of designer Anne Namba of Honolulu.

Embrey, 71, an Echo Park retiree who helped organize the Expo, hoped the event would help educate those less familiar with the Japanese American experience. She wants them to understand that what she endured for 17 months, 24 days in a World War II internment camp is part of America's collective experience.

"We had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. We were Americans, but the government made us leave our homes anyway. I hope this weekend helps people understand that character is what is important, not ethnicity."

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