Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
For the third year running, the LA as Subject consortium (which also hosts the upcoming Archives Bazaar at U.S.C.), the U.S.C. Libraries, the California Historical Society and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument are co-sponsoring the “History Keepers” exhibit at El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street at the historic Plaza.
The Homestead is fortunate to have participated as an exhibitor in each of the offerings, including this year’s contribution to the theme of “Eleven Stories That Moved Los Angeles.” Whereas the previous two years included over two dozen artifacts for exhibits that lasted about a month, this year the number of objects was limited to eleven and the display is for almost two months. Clearly, this allows the sponsoring organizations to better marshal their resources for putting up what is, even in the new arrangement, a time-consuming, though highly rewarding, process.
Among the other contributions was a copy of the script for the famed 1950s film “Rebel Without a Cause,” signed by its screenwriter; a display of artifacts related to the “Sunset Limited” trains running through Union Station across from the exhibit site; a trio of poems written by a Japanese-American held in internment camps during World War II; items related to Rúben Salazar, a Los Angeles Times reporter killed by police in 1970 during Chicano movement protests in Boyle Heights; and material related to a visit to Los Angeles by President John F. Kennedy. The diversity of items was interesting and it was particularly notable to see the increased use of audio and visual elements in the exhibit.
The Homestead’s artifact is particularly timely: a booking card from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for Anton Berschneider, held on the charge of being an “alien enemy” during World War I. Information provided by the museum and put together excellently by California Historical Society staff (who added a mirror behind the card so visitors could see the booking photos on the reverse of the card!) told of how Berschneider, who emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1911 and who filed for naturalization early in 1917, was arrested that November for manifesting “an unfriendly attitude towards this government” and then was sent to an internment camp in Utah, where he remained for the duration of the war. Berschneider went to Mexico upon his release and nothing more is known about him.
Not only did this take place a century ago this year (the Homestead has been commemorating the centennial of the First World War and will be through next year), but it is notable that immigration, ethnicity, and profiling are very much current issues. Moreover, the issue of “alien enemy” policies goes as far back as the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and reflect ongoing questions about how immigrants are perceived and treated during times of war or the threat of conflict.
It was particularly interesting to have the Berschneider artifact in the exhibit along with the poems written by the Japanese-American interned during World War II, because most of us are somewhat familiar with the latter, while the confinement of suspected alien enemies during the First World War and at other times during America’s history tend to be far less known.
Tonight I and my wife went down to an opening reception and enjoyed seeing the display, talking to people associated with the exhibit and to others, and soaking in the atmosphere of the Plaza. In fact, we had so much fun talking to others at El Tranquilo that we never made it over to the food and drink held at the visitor center for the Siqueiros mural. However, we consoled ourselves with an excellent dinner at Suehiro Cafe in Little Tokyo before heading back home!
The History Keepers exhibit will be up through 1 October at El Tranquilo with hours being Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The display is closed on Mondays.
For more information, here is a link to a California Historical Society blog post about the exhibit. Additionally, check out this link from KTLA’s coverage of the exhibit. You can also learn more about Anton Berschneider in a recent blog post here.