Between 1942 and 1944, thousands of incarcerated Japanese Americans were moved from assembly centers and concentration camps to farm labor camps as a way to mitigate the wartime labor shortage. In the summer of 1942, Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer Russell Lee—best known for his series on Pie Town, New Mexico—documented four such camps in Oregon and Idaho, capturing the laborers’ day-to-day lives in evocative detail. Many of these photographs, which capture a little-recorded episode of American history, have never before been exhibited.
For an illuminating look at the origins of this exhibition, read our Discover Nikkei interview with curator Morgen Young. A consulting historian based in Portland, Oregon, Young studied the FSA photography program in graduate school. Working on Uprooted has taught her much about Japanese American history, and she believes that the farm labor camps are an important and under-recognized part of that history. In her own words: “These individuals and families volunteered for agricultural labor—they went into new environments, where they didn’t know how they would be received by the local communities. They contributed directly to the war effort and still have not received the recognition they deserve for their efforts.”
Uprooted is a multi-pronged project that includes the traveling physical exhibition, oral history interviews with subjects in the photographs who were identified by viewers, documentary videos, school curricula, and a comprehensive website. A visit to the website is a great idea both before and after your visit to the exhibition; there, you can learn more about the farm labor camps, review copies of official documents, watch excerpts of oral history videos, view photos of the camps taken by people who lived in them, download lesson plans, and more.
Help Identify People in the Photographs
When you come to see Uprooted, pay close attention to the people in the photographs. Do you recognize anyone? Efforts to identify the subjects in Russell Lee’s photographs are still ongoing; according to Young, no one in the Idaho camp images has been identified, and the organizers are hoping that LA visitors will be able to help. A photo identification binder will be made available for visitors to write down possible names and/or details about the subjects’ lives.
James Tanaka, a JANM docent, has already come forward to share his story of living in the Twin Falls camp as a child; information about Tanaka and his family is available here.
Now that summer is almost over, it’s time for educators to plan their school year. JANM’s outstanding School Group Visits program, which offers a variety of stimulating and customizable activities, should be at the top of everyone’s list. Be sure to book your visit by August 31, as a rate increase will take place after that date.
We are now accepting school group visit reservations for the 2016–17 school year. For Title I schools and other groups with financial need, funding is available to cover the costs of admission and bus transportation. Funding is limited and you must apply in advance.
We offer several different options for customizing your visit. There has been increased interest in our newest tour options, which allow students to interact with our ongoing exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community, in new ways. For example, the Object Analysis Tour (suitable for grades 6–12), encourages students to analyze and interpret specific artifacts and images, while the Self-Guided Tour and Discussion (suitable for grades 9–12) asks students to independently explore Common Ground and then participate in a facilitated discussion on how the Japanese American experience relates to the themes of civil rights and democracy. These tours are often followed by one or two of the following optional activities:
For high school students, we also recommend visiting Fighting for Democracy, our experimental exhibition featuring seven real people whose stories are traced through the pre-World War II, World War II, and postwar periods. Their stories demonstrate how millions of American lives were affected by the war, and how individuals struggled to attain equal rights for their families and communities.
Before bringing student groups to the Fighting for Democracy exhibition, educators are strongly encouraged to sign up for a free professional development workshop. JANM organizes customized workshops to provide an orientation to the exhibition and preparation on facilitating an interactive experience. Please email email@example.com to arrange a Fighting for Democracy educator workshop and visit. Free admission and field trip transportation is provided on a first-come, first-served basis for educators who attend the pre-visit workshop. A free Educator Resource Guide is also available for download!
Be sure to consult all of our free educator resources as you plan your year and your lesson plans. If you have any questions about planning your visit, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
On May 17, the Japanese American National Museum partnered with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History to host a National Youth Summit on Japanese American incarceration in World War II. Over 3,600 students and teachers from 36 states and three countries tuned in to the live webcast of the event! In case you missed it, the program is now archived and available to watch online.
In addition to the panel discussion here in JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum and its webcast, we also hosted a simultaneous web chat where students enthusiastically checked in and asked some very thoughtful questions. There were so many questions that we were not able to answer all of them during the time allotted. Thanks to this blog, however, we now have a chance to follow up with our curious viewers and answer more of their questions.
JANM’s Curator of History, Dr. Lily Anne Welty Tamai, was on hand to answer questions about the Japanese American World War II incarceration.
Caroline asked: How were Japanese Americans treated differently from Jews during this time?
Dr. Tamai: The World War II experiences of the two groups were very different. Technically, both the Nazi and the American camps were concentration camps, meaning they were used “for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, or political opponents.” However, after the war, the term “concentration camp” became associated most strongly with the Nazis, who used their camps to systematically execute Jews and other minority groups. Although Japanese Americans were imprisoned without due process, the War Relocation Authority camps were NOT death camps—they met the prisoners’ basic needs for food and shelter and allowed them to work, go to school, and live with their families for the most part.
The DC Area asked: What happened to Japanese Americans who resisted incarceration?
Dr. Tamai: There were several acts of resistance against the incarceration, which led to arrests and four subsequent Supreme Court cases (Gordon Hirabayashi 1943, Minoru Yasui 1943, Fred Korematsu 1944, and Mitsuye Endo 1944) that questioned the constitutionality of various aspects of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. In the first three cases, government authorities misled the court by exaggerating the military’s estimates of the security risk posed by Japanese Americans. All convictions were overturned 40 years later thanks to the leadership of the Nisei and Sansei generations, who achieved historic court victories that paved the way for the Redress Movement. This in turn led to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted a formal apology and reparations to Japanese Americans.
Caroline asked: Did any other Americans try to stand up for Japanese Americans’ rights?
Dr. Tamai: After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese American community was perceived to be allied with Japan and thus, it was extremely unpopular to stand up for them. Several notable people did, however.
Clara Breed, a librarian in San Diego, wrote many letters to her former students who were incarcerated at Manzanar War Relocation Center. For more information, see Joanne Oppenheim, Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference (Scholastic Nonfiction, 2006). There was also a Mexican-Irish teenager named Ralph Lazo who decided to show his support of his Japanese American friends by joining them at Manzanar during the war.
Ralph Carr, former governor of Colorado, welcomed Japanese Americans who wished to resettle in Colorado after the war—an unpopular move that cost him his bid for the US Senate. American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers) also gave public support to Japanese Americans who were resettling. San Francisco–based civil rights attorney Wayne Collins helped nearly 5,000 Japanese Americans reinstate their US citizenship after they had been coerced into renouncing it. He also served as defense attorney for Fred Korematsu, Mitsuye Endo, and Japanese Latin Americans who had been extradited from Latin America and imprisoned in US Department of Justice camps.
Anonymous asked: Why didn’t they send Japanese Americans back to Japan?
Dr. Tamai: By 1942, nearly two-thirds of the Japanese American community had been born in the US, making them US citizens. Although most had family members who were still in Japan, many had never even been there, and therefore going “back” was not an option. For the first-generation Japanese immigrants who made up one-third of the community, many had already established themselves in the US—they were legal residents; they owned businesses, farms, and homes; and their children were American citizens. The US government was not in a position to deport an entire ethnic community.
During the first part of the program, students heard from JANM volunteer William “Bill” Shishima, who talked about his childhood incarceration at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. The students responded very positively to his story and asked him a few more questions via the web chat.
NadeShot asked: What was it like saying goodbye to your friends and not knowing when you would be back?
Bill Shishima: It was very short and sweet. Basically, we just said goodbye and we didn’t know where we were going or for how long.
Cate asked: Did the formal US apology help you at all emotionally?
Shishima: Yes, I was shocked that the country said that they were sorry we were incarcerated during the war. It takes a great country to admit a wrong to their citizens. I donated my $20,000 reparation money to the Japanese American National Museum, which exists to tell the Japanese American incarceration story so that it will never happen again!
A huge thank you to everybody who participated in this year’s National Youth Summit! In closing, we’d like to leave you with a link to the rap song we played to kick off the program. It’s called “9066” and it’s by “Kamikaze” Kane Tenorio. You can listen to it here. You can also read about Kane and his family here. Enjoy!
Kane Yutaka Tenorio, a college student and rap artist also known as “Kamikaze Kane,” was born in East Los Angeles in 1997. A young man of mixed Latino, Japanese, Native American, and white ancestry, Kane enjoys a close relationship with his extended family, including his grandmother Sue Sato-Tenorio, an educator and longtime friend of JANM.
As a youth, Kane spent a lot of time at his family’s three historic Boyle Heights homes, where he was able to learn about their history firsthand. His great-great-grandmother on his father’s side was a physician who practiced out of her house. She was also diabetic; when she was incarcerated at Poston by the US government during World War II, she became very ill due to lack of care and medication. Kane’s grandma Sue was born at the camp, along with her older brother. Although the family was lucky enough to retrieve their homes when the war was over, they lost their thriving businesses and virtually everything else.
The real impact of these stories was not lost on Kane, who was an active participant in family discussions as a child. As he grew older, he took up the study of music, eventually writing and recording original rap songs, which were inspired by his own experiences and world events. Today he performs his material, which frequently addresses race and social justice, in venues throughout Southern California.
This Tuesday, May 17, at 10 a.m. PDT, JANM is proud to host the latest edition of the Smithsonian’s National Youth Summit, which will focus on the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Kane’s rap song “9066,” will be played to kick off the summit, after which a panel of dynamic speakers will address the history and legacy of the incarceration. (For more information about the Summit, click here.)
Kane’s song is both a stirring protest against injustice and a loving tribute to the resiliency of his family, whose stories are woven throughout. In his grandma Sue’s words: “I am so proud that Kane has written this rap not only about my experience, but the collective experiences of thousands of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in the United States of America. To me, his song is about the trajectory of injustice, and the terrible human consequences of our government’s illegal incarceration of people solely due to race.”
The museum’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum will host a full house of students and educators for this important edition of the National Youth Summit. Among the audience members will be three generations of the Tenorio family, including Kane and Sue. In addition, educators and their classrooms around the globe are invited to participate via a live webcast of the event; so far, the event has received registrations for more than 2,000 students from 42 states, the District of Columbia, France, and Canada.
It’s not too late to register your class for what will surely be a lively and engaging event. The Youth Summit website offers many useful educator resources, such as lesson plans and conversation kits, that can be downloaded. After the event concludes, the Smithsonian will archive it along with past Youth Summits on this webpage, where they are available for viewing at any time.
Admission to JANM will be free to the public on Saturday, March 12, in celebration of the Smithsonian Institution’s annual Museum Day Live! event. This day is intended to encourage all people to explore our nation’s museums, cultural institutions, zoos, aquariums, parks, and libraries. This year, in recognition of Women’s History Month, the event has a special focus on reaching women and girls of color in underserved communities.
At JANM, we are very fortunate to have some significant pieces in our collection created by Japanese American women, such as the artist Miné Okubo (1912–2001), whose collection has been digitized and can be viewed on our museum’s website.
Okubo was a young woman during World War II. She and her family were removed from San Francisco to Tanforan Assembly Center, and then incarcerated in the concentration camp at Topaz, Utah, for the remainder of the war. Okubo was a keen observer; she made sketches and ink drawings that depicted what life was really like in camp.
In many ways, Okubo was ahead of her time. Her graphic novel, Citizen 13660 (1946), was the first published personal account of the camp experience. Through her pen and ink drawings, readers got an intimate view of what daily life became when Okubo, an American citizen by birth, was reduced to a number: 13660.
My name is Lauren Wong. I am an Ambassador Girl Scout with Troop 881, based at the Orange County Buddhist Church in Anaheim, California, and a candidate for the Girl Scout Gold Award. This award is similar to the Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts; it is the highest award a Girl Scout can earn. Applying for it is a seven-step process that begins with identifying a global issue and ends with creating a project that educates, inspires, and promotes awareness of that issue. For my Gold Award application, I have created a special Girl Scout patch program for the Japanese American National Museum.
Since I was little, my grandmother has told me stories of her incarceration at Tule Lake concentration camp, inspiring my passion for learning more about my Japanese American history. Students do not generally get the opportunity to learn about the mistreatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, as it is often overlooked in history classes. Even today, many of my school friends do not know about the camps. My goal is to educate the general public and inspire them to appreciate the lives they have today and not let history repeat itself.
I have created an educational tool called Experience the Past, available in three separate worksheets geared toward elementary school students, middle school students, and high school students/adults. The worksheets, which can be requested at JANM’s front desk, are designed to accompany a visit to the museum’s core exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community. They pose questions and suggest exercises that are designed to help visitors identify with the exhibition, think more deeply about what they’re seeing, connect it with aspects of contemporary life, and converse with others about their experience.
At the end of their visit, participants who complete a worksheet earn a custom patch that I created. Through this program, I hope to spread awareness of the history of Japanese American incarceration, which is important not just to Japanese American history, but to American history as a whole.
Tickets are still available for two upcoming Girl Scout programs at JANM. On January 9 and 16, current Girl Scouts are invited to take a private tour of Giant Robot Biennale 4, followed by a zine-making workshop with exhibiting artist Yumi Sakugawa. For more details and to register, visit janm.org.
When eighth-grade teacher Staci Yamanishi visits JANM with her students, she takes them through Common Ground: The Heart of Community, our ongoing exhibition on the Japanese American experience, and Fighting for Democracy, our appointment-only interactive exhibit on civil rights. Before they leave to return to their classroom however, the students receive one very special bonus assignment: find their teacher’s name engraved on the JANM courtyard.
Since JANM’s Pavilion building was opened in 1999, the museum has engraved the names of its youngest constituents in the Children’s Courtyard. For JANM, the Courtyard is a way to connect to each new generation, with the hope that being a part of the museum in this way will inspire a lifetime of sharing and discovery. As the young visitors grow into adults, we hope that they will continue to return to this institution and feel that they are a part of this community.
For Staci, the engraving was a gift from her grandparents. She remembers coming to the museum with her parents when she was young to look at her name, and she has returned many times over the years. She remembers visiting JANM on a school trip in the eighth grade and again when she was a student in UCLA’s Teacher Education Program.
Museum staff began getting to know Staci during her UCLA years, and soon after, she contributed a poem titled “I Come from Many Memories” to JANM’s experimental exhibition Xploration Lab 2012, which explored issues of identity. Staci has also served on an educator committee, which the museum’s Education Unit convenes on occasion to help brainstorm ways JANM can better serve teachers and students.
Now, in addition to occasional visits with her family, Staci returns every year on an eighth grade field trip—no longer as a student, but as a teacher. When asked why she brings her students to JANM, she replies that it’s important to her that the students understand her history—a unique history that is not found in their textbooks.
Much of Yamanishi’s knowledge of her history comes from conversations she had with her grandfather before he passed away. Having served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team while his wife (Staci’s grandmother) was incarcerated at Manzanar, he was an advocate of sharing the Japanese American World War II experience. He ingrained in Staci the importance of being proud of one’s history and passing it on to the next generation. Now, as a teacher herself, she encourages her students to explore their own stories through family history projects.
JANM is proud to know Staci and we are thankful for people like her, who share our mission to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.
If you are interested in purchasing an engraving for a child or youth (21 and under) in your life, visit our Children’s Courtyard Engraving page for complete details.
The Civilian Exclusion Order poster, which announced the evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry, is seen at left. The full text can be read here. Take a close look at this document and consider some of the euphemistic words used by the government—”non-alien,” “evacuation,” and “temporary residence.”
In 1942, these posters were placed in public areas all along the West Coast of the United States. With an average of seven days’ notice, thousands of individuals of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated in American concentration camps without due process. Many of these individuals were United States citizens. They could only bring with them what they could carry and their lives were irreversibly disrupted.
In 1983, the artist Qris Yamashita created a silkscreen poster titled Redress/Reparations Now!/Little Tokyo. Inspired by the Civilian Exclusion Order, this work looks critically at the language used, and makes notes to draw our attention to certain words and phrases, helping us to consider what they really mean.
Yamashita’s work points out that the phrase “non-alien” really meant U.S. citizens. The United States government gathered and imprisoned its own citizens based on the fact that they were of Japanese descent. The government also stated that it would provide “temporary residence” elsewhere. As it turned out, the citizens were first held in horse stables that had been transformed into temporary detention centers, and then transported to hastily built barracks in remote, barren areas.
There is far more to explore in both of these pieces so feel free to take a closer look. The next time you’re in downtown Los Angeles, come to the Japanese American National Museum and see Common Ground: The Heart of Community to learn more about this period in our country’s history.
For more about the Civilian Exclusion Order as it relates to Executive Order 9066, read this past blog post that explains the difference between the two.
In Japanese American history, Executive Order 9066 and the Civilian Exclusion Orders are often confused with one another; many people mistakenly believe that they are the same thing. In fact, they are two different decrees that acted in concert to legitimize government-sanctioned racism during World War II.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This two-page, typewritten order was simply designed, in broad strokes, to give the Secretary of War the power to establish designated military areas from which people could be evacuated as he saw fit:
I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.
Executive Order 9066 is what opened the door for the exclusion and removal of all people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast and into World War II American concentration camps. This was then put into action by a series of Civilian Exclusion Orders.
Posted on signs in large, bold lettering, the orders appeared first in Bainbridge Island, Washington, on March 24, 1942 and were subsequently posted all along the West Coast of the United States. This series of sequential orders issued by the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army Wartime Civil Control Administration informed people of Japanese ancestry that they were required to pack up, leave their homes, and report to designated locations.
Following is a key excerpt from one of the orders:
Pursuant to the provisions of Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, this Headquarters, dated May 3, 1942, all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated from the above area by 12 o’clock noon, P. W. T., Sunday, May 9, 1942.
Note the highly strategic use of language in this paragraph. The persons to be rounded up are both “alien and non-alien”—these words are used instead of the designations “citizen and non-citizen.” Imagine the reaction these orders might have generated among the general populace, had they in fact made plain that that the government’s intention was to incarcerate persons who were citizens of the United States.
By the same token, the order states that all persons of Japanese ancestry are to be “evacuated”—a word commonly used during natural disasters, when citizens are evacuated from an area for their own safety. History has made it clear that it was in fact the safety of non-Japanese Americans that prompted these extreme actions from the U.S. government.
These egregious instances of legalized racism have since been widely recognized and officially apologized for by the government. February 19, 1942—the date President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066—is now annually commemorated as a “Day of Remembrance” by Japanese Americans and all people interested in the protection of civil liberties.
During World War II, the U.S. government forcibly removed Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast without due process. Most of them were sent to one of ten concentration camps located throughout the United States: Amache, Gila River, Heart Mountain, Jerome, Manzanar, Minidoka, Poston, Rohwer, Topaz, and Tule Lake, as they are commonly referred to. The War Relocation Authority selected these locations because they were remote, owned by the federal government, and often near rail lines.
For many years after the war, Japanese Americans did their best to get on with their post-camp lives, preferring not to dwell on the unpleasant experience of incarceration. As the years passed however, the community became more interested in grappling with this part of its history. Trips back to the camps began, with some organizing group pilgrimages to facilitate the experience.
Now, more than seventy years after resettlement, there has evolved what could be called a pilgrimage season. The 2015 “season” begins in April and ends in August. Following is a complete schedule with links to more information about each of the organized pilgrimages, including registration and fees.
These are the five sites that have regular pilgrimages; we encourage you to visit the others as well. With the exception of the Gila River camp in Arizona, permits are not required. In February, President Obama recognized Honouliuli in Hawai`i as a National Monument, so perhaps Hawai`i will one day be added as part of the pilgrimage season.
No matter who you are—whether you were incarcerated or not, whether you are of Japanese descent or not—you might consider visiting one of the former camp sites. There is nothing like standing there, feeling the air, seeing the mountains, sensing the scorching heat or the bitter cold. It is definitely worth a visit, even though they are remote and the conditions are harsh; in fact, that is the point.