80 Years After Executive Order 9066: Stories of Loss and Resilience
There is a set of lyrics in the 2015 Broadway musical Allegiance where a character named Kei Kimura describes her experience within a Japanese internment camp during World War II. She sings,
“Years inside here taught me / The world won’t set things right / It's up to us to save ourselves/ I'm ready for the fight
I am stronger than before / Braver than before / This courage I've discovered / I've never needed more”
On February 19, 2022, the United States will mark the 80th anniversary of the issuing of Executive Order 9066 by then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This order authorized the U.S. military to relocate more than 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to 10 different internment camps, often located in isolated and desolate parts of the western United States, and forced Japanese Americans to leave businesses, homes, friends, and community behind.
The stories of their experiences include—as Kei represents in the lyrics above—not only the pain of living behind barbed wire merely because of their heritage, but also tests of loyalty, the contradictions of military service, and more. These are stories of trauma, but also stories of resilience, of starting over, and of making sure that those years are never forgotten as a significant piece of American history.
Today you can hear many of these stories in the oral history projects collected by the National Park Service, and archives like the one spearheaded by Densho, some of which are featured in Densho’s podcast Campu. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has also been committed to protecting and elevating these stories by advocating for the protection of many of the historic places related to this history.
To mark the anniversary, we've curated a list of photo essays, articles, and places that reflect the Japanese American experience during World War II and move us toward telling the full American story.
Sites of Incarceration
Photo Essays of Manzanar
In 2016, the National Trust published a series of photo essays of Manzanar with images by three very different photographers. Jack Iwata—who was incarcerated himself at Manzanar and Tule Lake— documents his own experiences during this period. Dorothea Lange, who photographed the site on the behest of the Wartime Relocation Authority, often deviated from their request to show only the positive side of incarceration. Ansel Adams was invited by Manzanar's director, Ralph Merritt, and took about 200 images, the majority of which were portraits.
Photo description: An image of three women in a field of flowers with the Manzanar's barracks in the background.
How A Lost Internment Camp Became A National Monument
Almost lost forever to the jungle, Honouliuli is a "powerful reminder of the need to protect civil liberties in times of conflict." A World War II Internment camp site located not far from Pearl Harbor, Honouliuli was rediscovered in 2002. After archeological field work and documentation, it was designated a National Monument in 2015.
Photo description: A view of the Honouliuli Internment Camp barracks area in 1945 or 1946.
Tule Lake: Learning from Places of Exception in a Climate of Fear
From the Spring 2017 issue of Forum Journal, this article by Cathlin Goulding focuses on Tule Lake, the site of a Japanese American concentration camp during World War II. Goulding explains the camp’s history, details the tours that the National Park Service is currently hosting there, and connects issues surrounding Japanese internment to present-day political rhetoric and realities.
Photo description: A group of incarcerated Japanese Americans in 1942 or 1943 farming at Tule Lake Internment Camp in Newell, California.
Valuing Diversity at Heart Mountain: Carrying the Lessons of Yesterday into Today
A 2016 story on Preservation Leadership Forum by then-executive director Brian Liesinger delves into the mission of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation to tell the full American story.
Photo description: Interior of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation Interpretive Learning Center outside of Cody, Wyoming.
Stories of Resilience
- Q&A: Naomi Harada on Her Family’s Civil Rights Legacy
- Back Story: A Different Tune with Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda
- Tadaima! Lessons From a Community Virtual Pilgrimage
- Honoring the Difficult Histories and Diverse Stories of Little Tokyo (Forum Journal)
- Significance Across Generations: Artifacts at the Panama Hotel
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