November 1, 2011

Reflections on Minidoka

Posted in 2011 Minidoka Pilgrimage, Civil Liberties Symposium, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , , , at 1:03 pm by minidokapilgrimage

Reflections on Minidoka

by: Antoinette M. Spillers

On June 30th-July 3rd, I had the opportunity to visit a horrific and shameful part of our nation’s history, participating in the 9th Annual Pilgrimage to the Minidoka Concentration Camp. The Minidoka Pilgrimage was one of the most powerful, educational and life-changing journey I have ever endured. This trip challenged my understanding and perspective on the teachings of American history, realization of my emotional connections to this past, and my role as a change agent to educate others and prevent such heinous crimes from re-occurring. I was exposed to the realities that many Japanese Americans endured before, during and after living in the incarceration camps. It’s very dishearten the more I learned about our country’s history, the more pain and shame this country has brought upon itself. This trip further my understanding that each demographic group as endured many challenges and oppression in this country, but instead of allowing further separation, we should use our unique stories to connect us as a nation, for the betterment of the human race.

My studies of the incarceration camps began as a junior in high school, while conducting research on Japanese Americans in Internment Camps during World War II, for my English class research paper. During my research, I discovered information about the 442nd Infantry Regiment and the 100th Battalion, both consisted of men who volunteer to fight for this country, as proof of their loyalty and pride. I am astounded, as by the amount of sacrifices many people have given to a country to have oppressed and discriminated against them since the founding of our nation; this complex love-hate relationship many of us experience with this country. Since high school, I have been eager to learn more about the incarceration camps and to gain a better understanding of the teaching techniques of American history. I constantly wonder about the multitude of stories that are erased from our history book; concealing America’s shameful past and ignorance. There are many more stories out there, in which I am eager to uncover our past, seek out the millions of untold stories and learn more about the other concentration campus in our nation.

During the bus trip to Idaho, we watched movies and documentaries about the many experiences and stories from the concentration camps. I was extremely appalled to learn many families were forced to live in horse stables prior to relocating to the incarceration camps. It is a tragedy that our government treated human beings like animals, placing them in horse stables, expecting them to living comfortably. In addition, American citizens were removed from their home with uncertainties; families were unsure about their relocation area, the location of other family members, and no legitimate reasons for the massive evacuation orders (Being that we were also at war with Germany and Italy, but no European Americans were order to relocate). When I heard these stories, I sense the pain and trauma because I know the feeling of evacuating with many uncertainties. These stories resurface many emotions I endured during my evacuation in August 2005 from Hurricane Katrina, whereas my city received a mandatory evacuation on short-notice on a Sunday morning. When comparing the two events, it seems as if history did repeat itself, but for different reasons. It is still painful to know that thousands were forced out of their homes, places into massive, unsanitary living quarters for matters out of their control. Many of us share those pains and struggle of losing everything you worked hard for; obtaining the American Dream and suddenly, that dream was stolen. It is very hurtful to have your life earnings taken away, but these shared emotions will bring us together, as humans, as a nation.

During the Pilgrimage, I learned many other untold stories, such as the No-no, men who decided not to volunteer for the war, the Women Army Corps and the most dangerous battles the 442nd Infantry and the 100th Battalion were sent to combat in order to save other American soldiers. During the midst of battles, the U.S. government persisted in their discriminatory practices, by sacrificing hundreds of Japanese American soldiers in deadly battlefields to save white American soldiers, establishing a segregated military unit for Japanese Americans and sustaining the segregated African-American units. I also learned the government reasons for sending Japanese Americans to these deserted camps, placing them on desert, uncultivated land, so they can cultivate the land into farmland, which supplied food for the soldiers and other citizens. When the camps were closed, the land was given to other veterans, not the people who cultivated the land. It is dishearten to learn about these stories of oppression, yet these same stories are reminders of the importance of sharing and preserving history. By sharing the truth, we learned how to prevent these discriminatory events from re-occurring. These untold stories provided an in-depth understanding of my place in serving as an agent of change to, expand and preserve citizens civil rights and liberties.

When I moved to Seattle a year ago, I realize my new location will provided exposure to another aspect of history, something different from the southern history I grew-up learning. Many local residents explained the location of the Japanese Town and Little Tokyo that existed in Seattle and other parts of the country, but after the incarceration campus, many of those communities never returned. The Minidoka Concentration Camp was occupied from August 1942-October 1945, but those few years forever changed the lives, cultural and family structure of many Japanese American families in the Pacific Northwest. There is much trauma many have suffered living in these facilities, but I am thankful for those who are able to remember and  share their stories, teaching us and preserving history with the next generation. I know Japanese American history did not start, nor will it end with the concentration camps.

There have been many recent discussions about another potential incarceration and relocation of American Citizens, but I hope our society will take a greater stand and speaking out against these injustices in our nation. Each ethnic group endures their only challenges and pains, but when we began to put our differences aside and realize how we as humans have suffered, we begin to move forward in working for a better, more just society.

In the words of Mark Twain, “History never repeats itself, at best it sometimes rhymes.” After attending the Minidoka Pilgrimage, I assure you history will not repeat nor will it rhyme, and I am ever more grateful to learn and share these remarkable stories with others.

Thank you for this opportunity.

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