The landmark exhibition “What’s Going On? – California and the Vietnam Era” is currently featured at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum . “What’s Going On?” provides a timely examination of the impact of the Vietnam War on California life and culture. Home to numerous defense contractors and military training centers (including the Mare Island Naval Shipyard and Travis Air Force Base), the state also served as the primary portal for both returning soldiers and Southeast Asian immigrants following the fall of Saigon. As the epicenter of the war’s home front, California became a hotbed of social and political movements that spread across the county, and ultimately redefined what it means to be an American.
The exhibition focuses on events in California from the 1950s Cold War era to the present, with special emphasis on the tumultuous years from the Vietnam conflict’s escalation in 1965 through its end in 1975. During that time, California was the epicenter of the war’s domestic front. The state was the staging ground for most of the nation’s defense contractors, the location of principal military centers where troops were trained and transported, and the base of legendary peace protests and New Right politics ushered in by Reagan’s gubernatorial election in 1966.
The exhibition includes historical artifacts, photographs, and documents interwoven with oral histories contributed by veterans, activists, and former refugees. Based on a larger exhibition of the same title developed by the Oakland Museum of California, this 1,000 square-foot exhibition provides visitors an opportunity to consider and ask question about this important period in our nation’s history.
The exhibit has been supplemented with material from the collection of the Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum reflecting the impact of the Vietnam conflict on Solano County. Much of Solano County’s history has been defined by the strong military presence of the Mare Island Navy Yard, Travis Air Force Base, and the Benicia Arsenal.
The exhibit has been further enhanced by the addition of historical and artistic works by Amerasian artist Ruth Moss, a Solano County native whose work reflects the impact of the era on her and her extended family. Moss’ father served in the US Air Force in Vietnam. Her mother is Vietnamese. After coming to the United States the family helped literally hundreds of Vietnamese immigrants who came to California via refugee camps in Guam, the Philippines, and other locations.
Currently scheduled for installation at more than 10 museums across the state over the next three years, “What’s Going On?” will continue at the Vallejo Museum through September 6th.
The “What’s Going On? – California and the Vietnam Era” exhibition tour was organized by the California Exhibition Resources Alliance (CERA) in concert with the Oakland Museum of California. CERA is a network of professionally operated museums and cultural organizations that collaborate to create and tour smaller, affordable, high quality exhibitions that enhance civic engagement and human understanding. The Oakland Museum exhibition was made possible with support by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The James Irvine Foundation, The Clorox Company Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
The Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum is located at 734 Marin Street, Vallejo. For more information call (707) 643-0077.
Photo caption: U.S. Marine and Vietnamese refugees at Camp Pendleton refugee center, 1975. Stephen Peck, photographer