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The History of Japanese Americans from the Perspective of a German-American: Mr. Nahan Gluck, docent for the Japanese American National Museum – Part 2 “Teaching Students And Going to Internment Camp Sites”

>> Part 1

After retiring from a Los Angeles County job in 1992 and seeing actual barracks from the Heart Mountain Internment Camp, Mr. Nahan Gluck started volunteering at the Japanese American National Museum in 1994. He is not of Japanese descent.

However, filled with indignation that as a fellow American and as a fellow human being, ‘even one more person should know about the Japanese American history’, Nahan has been coming to the museum for more than twice a week for the last 14 years.

At first, he started as a gallery guide for Fighting For Tomorrow, an exhibit about the Japanese American soldiers that fought in battles overseas. Soon after, he expanded his role in the organization’s committees. Not stopping just as a volunteer and interested in the management of the museum, he comments as follows in regards to the completion of the new museum and relocation in 1999.

“Until the relocation, the museum’s scope was small and the organizational structure felt more like that of a family-run business. However, with the relocation, the Japanese American National Museum was awarded National Accreditation and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. This is very prestigious. To reach that level, though, there was a need to change to a business-like organization from that of a family-like organization.”

Even if the building changes or there is organizational restructuring, as long as its mission statement remains intact, Nahan is determined to move forward with the museum. “The mission of the Japanese American National Museum is to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.” Nahan embraces such a mission.

The day I met with Nahan, he had already conducted a morning tour for the local Los Angeles 8th and 9th graders. In order to raise money for bus expenses for such field trips, the museum holds extensive charity dinners.

“For American students, this is not a foreign museum that has nothing to do with them. As a fellow American, this is an important place to learn what has happened in U.S. history. That is why there is a need for them to come here and actually experience for themselves what had happened.”

In addition, there are times when Japanese students come to the museum as part of their field trip to Los Angeles.

“Japanese American travel agencies are very cooperative in scheduling field trips to the museum. However, sometimes, those tours are on the same day these students arrive from Japan so it is a pity some of them are sleeping while listening to the explanations. I hope more and more people come to the museum from within the United States, from Japan, and from all over the world. Because of the 9/11 incident, it is true that the number of museum visitors have sharply decreased.”

Nahan not only acts as a guide in the museum but has also been in charge as lecturer for the “Japanese American History 2 (From World War II To The Present)”. Furthermore, at times, he goes on conference trips touring the various internment campsites such as the ones in Arkansas and in Denver, Colorado. I wondered where his volunteering starts and ends and thought if he had to pay for the conference trips so I questioned him.

“Of course, I pay for my own trip expenses. Volunteering is like that. When I conclude some adult tours, some people discreetly offer me money. Some Japanese visitors even give me gift baskets with snacks to eat. Of course, I can take the snacks to the volunteer office but an individual can never accept money. All the money has to be put into donation boxes that are set on the museum floor.”

Thinking it can’t be but also thinking maybe, I asked if Nahan paid for the uniform and purple vest that he was wearing. To that question, he answered right away, “Of course, I did”. To someone that donates his time and money to volunteerism, I could not help but feel great humility from my heart.

Next, I asked what kind of changes he has felt as a result of his experience volunteering at the museum. “I have been able to achieve satisfaction of the heart. Since volunteering here, I have started feeling deep contentment, something I have never felt before when I was working for a salary. This is something that cannot be changed for the world.”

Part 3 >>

© 2009 Keiko Fukuda

community culture docent German American janm JANM Volunteers Japanese American National Museum Nahan Gluck volunteer