Stereotypes of archivists as bespectacled introverts navigating unending caverns of file cabinets and stacks are largely exaggerated. But it’s true that, as a lot, we generally enjoy our quiet time and relative introversion. That said, our staff trip to the 2017 Society for American Archivists Conference in Portland, Oregon was both a delightful change of pace and, even more importantly, a powerful catalyst for reflection on goals and strategies for Densho’s own archival practices.
On December 7, 1941, Sumi Okamoto, then 21, was busy getting ready for her wedding. Oblivious to the reports of bombs falling on faraway Pearl Harbor, Sumi put on her white dress and headed to the Grant Street Methodist Church in Spokane, Washington. Her family and friends, hoping not to spoil her wedding day, tried to keep the bad news from her—that is, until FBI agents crashed the reception to arrest several of her Issei guests.
On October 10, the Supreme Court will hear two cases contesting President Trump’s Executive Order 13780, which threatens to ban travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries and halt refugee admissions altogether. As the children of Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu and Min Yasui point out in an amicus brief filed earlier this week, the government’s defense follows a familiar pattern—pitting immigrants against “real” Americans, raising the specter of a national security crisis, and claiming the courts (and the rest of us peasants) have no right to “second-guess” such important presidential decisions.
Relative to what we know about the concentration camps run by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), we know little about their predecessors, the so-called “assembly centers” run by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) that served as temporary holding centers in the spring and summer of 1942 while the WRA camps were being constructed. There is no academic monograph specifically on them, and though we know a fair amount about some of them, there is practically nothing on some of the smaller ones.
Fairgrounds in Fresno, Merced, Pomona, Puyallup, Salinas, Stockton, Tulare, and Turlock have a dark common history. Seventy five years ago, they served as sites for the temporary detention of Japanese American men, women, and children. The fairground detention sites mostly housed Japanese Americans from rural areas and were part of a larger network of assembly centers run by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA). They were quickly transformed into prisons intended to hold detainees while more permanent concentration camps were being readied in desolate spots across the country. But even in their impermanence, fairground detention facilities hold painful and enduring memories for many Japanese Americans.
This week, President Trump turned the futures of 800,000 young immigrants, many of whom know no life outside the U.S., into gambling chips in a toxic political climate. Aside from being unquestionably cruel, a lawsuit filed by 15 state attorney generals on Wednesday alleges that the administration’s actions were motivated by racial bias and that they violate the due process rights of DACA recipients. We’ve got a long battle ahead, folks, and there are a few crucial things to remember as we wage that battle.
Hawai‘i is touted as a multicultural paradise, but the history of the sugar industry in this occupied Native land tells us otherwise. The industry played a central role in the making of modern Hawai‘i, but it was built on the backs of hundreds of thousands of laborers who toiled in the sugarcane fields owned by the haole (white) elite. While capitalist exploitation plays a central role in contemporary Hawaii’s foundation story, so too do tales of worker resistance.
Photographs and moving images of World War II incarceration have helped keep memories of that era alive for decades. But since cameras were largely forbidden inside the camps, few images from the point of view of prisoners exist. Though not permitted to take photos, Kango Takamura documented his wartime experience at Santa Fe and, later, Manzanar through expert sketches and watercolors. Like the better-known works of Mine Okubo, Takamura depicted camp life with a keen and sometimes darkly humorous eye.
In the wake of the horrific terror attacks in Manchester and London, calls for “rounding up” Muslims in WWII-style “internment camps” are once again rearing their ugly head. Thankfully, these calls have largely been met with resistance and outright condemnation. But supporters and opponents have one thing in common: they’re both conflating internment camps with concentration camps, and that’s a problem.
- book review
- camp life
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture