Thursday, July 9, 2009

An Ugly Lesson in US History

My mother, a Japanese-American, was born in the Topaz Internment Camp (located near Delta, Utah) where her parents (also born in the United States) and extended family were incarcerated during World War II...simply because they were of Japanese descent.

To be clear, the term "internment camp" may be used interchangeably with "concentration camp." However, because of the negative connotation of "concentration camp," the more innocuous sounding term "internment camp" is used as a euphemism to make this egregious violation of American civil rights sound less offensive.

We made a family pilgrimage to the internment camp this week. This is why we came to Utah.

There is nothing much left of the interment camp. All the buildings were dismantled and sold by the US government not long after Topaz was closed in 1945. Afterward, any remaining items of value were stolen and sold for profit.

Once the size of a small city spanning over 18,000 acres, all you can see now when you visit the site is a desolate, dusty, and dry desert plain with scattered and rotting wood planks, a few cement foundations, and lots of rusty nails everywhere.

We were able to find the site of the Topaz hospital where my mother was born.

Most US history books gloss over the American concentration camps because they are such an embarrassment to our government. Many Americans still don't know anything about what happened to our own people. The only reason I learned about them was because my mother told me when I was a child about what happened. My husband Kenny doesn't remember learning anything about the internment until he was in college.

People were given only a brief warning before they were forced out of their homes, allowed to bring only what they could carry.

It's really pretty shocking.

To learn more about the Topaz Internment Camp and the Japanese American internment in general, check out the following links:

The painting at the top of this post was created by my great-grandmother who was interned at Topaz. It depicts the desert conditions of the camp.

Update on July 12, 2009: I added a photo slideshow from our trip to Utah. It's under the post Utah Photos by Alyson and Kenny. Many of the photos are from the Topaz site.


upnorth said...

I'm so sorry that happened to your family - it's so wrong. It happened her in Canada too.
My mom worked for a lady here in Canada that was "interned" as well during WWII. I interviewed her and presented the issue at a history fair in grade 10. I was SO surprised that she wasn't more angry....I got angry for her.

alyson said...

Thanks for the post, upnorth. I actually didn't know it happened in Canada until very recently...and my mom didn't know until I read her your post a couple days ago. It's just so hard to understand.