In 1942, almost 13,000 people of Japanese ancestry, many of whom were American citizens, were removed from their homes and sent to a desolate incarceration camp near Twin Falls, Idaho. Japanese Americans spent nearly three years incarcerated at Minidoka and other camps during World War II. Today, the Minidoka site continues to hold a mixture of memories and strong emotions—feelings of denial, distrust, shame, and joy.
The memories won’t die and the legacy lives on in generations that never lived inside the barbed wire of Minidoka. This is due in large part to the work of groups like the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee and Friends of Minidoka who continue to raise consciousness around the Japanese American concentration camp experience and the designation of Minidoka as a National Historic Site.
Credit is also due to the work of many authors, scholars, filmmakers, photographers and journalists who continue to research and write about the incarceration and removal, finding new details, new stories, and new connections that help keep the story alive and relevant to the present.
Two such works were recently published. One is a book by photojournalist Teresa Tamura and the other is a compilation of essays edited by historians Russell M. Tremayne and Todd Shallat.
Minidoka: An American Concentration Camp
By Teresa Tamura
Caxton Press, 2013
Tamura’s Minidoka chronicles the author’s own journey from a passive state of ignorance and embarrassment about Minidoka to a passionate desire to unearth and illuminate the history of the people and the place. As a photojournalist, she achieves this largely through the photos she takes of people, sites, and artifacts associated with Minidoka and the explanatory captions supplied.
Through her research, well documented in footnotes and bibliography, Tamura reveals several little known facts and provides a clear historic context. The author’s intro and a special essay by Mitsuye Yamada make fascinating reading, but the heart of the book lies in the black and white photographs taken by the author.
Tamura includes many voices in her book, providing us with the photos and perspectives of those who lived or worked in the camp; those who left Minidoka for school, work, the army or prison; those who were actually born in camp; and those who worked to keep the memories alive through organizing, teaching, speaking, writing, art, literature, and poetry. She gives a voice, a name, a face, and a historical backdrop to each portrait.
Surviving Minidoka: The Legacy of WWII Japanese American Incarceration
Russell M. Tremayne and Todd Shallat, editors
Boise State University, 2013
In Surviving Minidoka, editors Tremayne and Shallat preserve 10 “essays and insights from the College of Southern Idaho’s annual Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium. Contributors, in pictures and words, honor the enduring spirit of nidoto nai yoni: “let it not happen again.” (Tremayne, from An American Tragedy).
The pieces range from historical scholarly works like that of Professor Greg Robinson on Mixing the Races, to personal remembrances from artist Roger Shimomura and the late Frank Kitamoto, to reflections on specific topics or personalities like Anna Hosticka Tamura’s piece on Minidoka Gardens or Russell M. Tremayne’s piece on Nakashima woodworker. Interspersed throughout are poems and excerpts from the writings of Lawrence Matsuda, Mitsuye Yamada, Lawson Fusao Inada, and others.
Like any collection of writings by several authors, the leap from one essay to the next is sometimes wide, both in style and content. Taken as a whole, however, the 10 essays, punctuated with numerous ancillary photos and writings, create a nuanced picture of Minidoka concentration camp and of the social milieu in which it was created: early 20th century America.
Viewed side by side, Minidoka and Surviving Minidoka offer a stark contrast: one in muted black and white with a single narrative and author, the other a busy full-color volume with multiple viewpoints and far-ranging topics. Both, however, are artistically attractive, both apt to kindle some emotional response, each with a unique take on one of America’s ten concentration camps of WWII: Minidoka.
The 2014 Minidoka Pilgrimage takes place from June 19 to 22. This 11th pilgrimage will take place with former incarcerees, their families, and friends—from Seattle, Portland and across the nation—to the former Minidoka Camp in Idaho. For more information, visit www.minidokapilgrimage.org.