February 16, 2022

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.

People crossing the expanse of Manzanar

photo by: Dorothea Lange/WRA/National Archives 538123

View of Manzanar, a Japanese Internment Camp located in Independence, California.

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

Women sit in a field of flowers
Japanese American National Museum

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.

Honouliuli Internment Camp
Photograph by R. H. Lodge. Courtesy of Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i / AR 19 Collection

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.


Panama Hotel

Panama Hotel, Seattle, Washington

The Panama Hotel, an early 20th-century five story brick structure, is an outstanding example of the single-room occupancy hotels that characterize Seattle’s pre-World War II Nihonmachi (Japantown). In the basement is a large storage area containing the belongings of Japanese Americans incarcerated in World War II.

Historic Wintersburg

Congregation at 1910 Mission, c. 1920s.

Historic Wintersburg documents three generations of Japanese American experience, from immigration in the late 19th century to the return from incarceration following World War II. The 4.5-acre historic landscape contains six structures, including one of the oldest Japanese missions in Southern California.

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Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.

While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.

We believe all Americans deserve to see their history in the places that surround us. As a nation, we have work to do to fill in the gaps of our cultural heritage.

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