Imagine one Saturday you’re at home doing whatever you normally do on a Saturday. Maybe your children are in the back yard playing, your husband is in the office working, and you’re juggling between a weeks worth of laundry and preparing lunch…..
Suddenly there is a harsh banging on the door. When you open it your surprised, an armed solder of the U.S. army is yelling orders at you to pack one bag for each member of your family, sell or disperse the rest of your belongings, and report in one week to be picked up. The next few days are a chaotic mess and your family reports as demanded, terrified.
An army truck appears and you’re ordered to board at gun point. Reluctantly you climb aboard, and along with several other families on the block, you discover you are being taken to a train station.
You board and ride for several hours. When the train finally stops, you off board and find yourself in some sort of camp.
There are rows and rows of shanty buildings that all look the same, armed guards everywhere, families running around confused, and a parameter of barbed wire fencing surrounding the place to keep you locked in.
You are handed a gunny sack and pushed into a line where others are collecting hay and filling the bag. You don’t realize at the time, but this will be your mattress for the next several years.
Finally you’re escorted to one of the shanty buildings, a place you will call home. If your lucky, you and your family will be living in a room not much bigger than your living room, made of hardwood floors, and walls without insulation, and a stove to keep warm. If your not so lucky, you will be sleeping in a horse stall.
When you need to shower you will use a community shower house and you will eat in a communal dinning hall.
What have you done to deserve this type of treatment?
You are an American citizen that has Japanese heritage.
During World War II, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States government made the executive decision to ’round-up’ all American citizens of Japanese decent living in the United Sates (addressed as ‘non-aliens’). Non-aliens were relocated to specially designed camps for ‘protection’ against American backlash. The result was devastating; entire generations lost property and family wealth. Living conditions were squalor inside the camps and systemic racism was created throughout the country overnight.
Despite Japanese American efforts to prove their patriotism, including fighting for America in the war and earning more decorated medals than any other infantry, Japanese American’s maintained interned for several years.
Once released the United States government did not acknowledge its acts. Internment camps were not talked about in history classes, and America’s sin was swept under the rug. It took 45 years of petitioning the government before President’s George H. Bush and Bill Clinton offered formalized apologies on behalf of the nation and awarded $25,000 in restitution to each remaining individual survivor.
Now the Japanese American community is doing its part to make sure this never happens to citizens again. Most recently the Japanese American community was instrumental in rallying and petitioning against the unlawful detainment of perceived ‘terrorists’ at Abu Ghraib prison.
To hear firsthand experiences of life in internment camps please visit: