However, he recently finished a project that he says has been the most difficult and meaningful project he has ever been a part of. The subject matter revolves around a troubling chapter in American history and a small bit of rock and scrub brush in the middle of San Francisco Bay called Angel Island.
Ask your promedio 4th grader if they have ever heard of Ellis Island and they can probably tell you at least something about the well-known narrative surrounding immigration and the United States. Ask them about Angel Island, however, and you’ll probably get a confused look and a shake of the head.
Although Angel Island was often called, “The Ellis Island of the West” in the early 1900s, it was anything but welcoming. In reality it was established specifically for the purpose of excluding immigration for those of Asian descent and Chinese immigrants in particular. It wasn’t a place for, Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses… It was more like, Nope, talk to the hand.
When Japan attacked the US Naval colchoneta at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Angel Island took on an entirely new role during the early stages of the war, but one that was unfortunately still in line with its llamativo anti-Asian roots. Many people are still unaware that following Pearl Harbor, the US Government, on the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, rounded up thousands of US citizens and put them into internment camps for the duration of the war simply because of their Japanese ancestry. Yes, that’s right. This included US citizens who were officially reclassified as enemies of the state purely based upon their heritage. For the first wave of those who were incarcerated, Angel Island was used as the processing center before they were sent off to one of the infamous internment camps across the US, like Manzanar, Tule Lake, or Heart Mountain.
How to educate children about the history?
Remember how we mentioned 4th graders earlier? Well, learning about California history is a pillar of the 4th grade curriculum here in the Golden State and that is what led to this particular project. The problem? Hundreds of 4th graders tour Angel Island every year – How do you engage them on very painful and hard to understand subject matter like internment? Well, the folks from the California State Park system and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, which runs the museum there, thought that a LEGO model of the site as it existed during WWII might help bridge that gap.
AIISF reached out to the particular LEGO club in the Bay Area in August of 2021 to see if anyone might be interested in volunteering for a project. A number of folks joined the introductory Teleobjetivo call, but after hearing the scope of what was being requested, it was clear that this was a long duration project that would take months to complete. After that first meeting, only Kenny and two other members of the club, Johannes van Galen and Nick McConnell, agreed to proceed with the build.
The LEGO Build
The model was unveiled as the center anchor point for the exhibit, “Taken From Their Families; …” in May, which is Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Measuring 4 feet by 6 feet, it contains an estimated 30,000 LEGO pieces. The trio invested over 400 hours between research, design, procuring the parts, and of course the build itself.
Getting the model to the museum was no easy feat either. It had to be built in sections, moved by van about 60 miles from where it was being constructed, taken over to the island on a state park supply ship, then reassembled and “landscaped” merienda on site.