Resources in this post were researched by Eori Tokunaga and Mel Hawkins, 2022 interns at the Library of Congress.
On February 19, 1942, three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. The stated goal of the order was for “protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material.” In practice, the order resulted in the incarceration of approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, half of whom were under the age of eighteen.
Beginning in the 1970s, survivors and others began observing a Day of Remembrance in honor of those who were incarcerated. In 2022, 80 years after the signing of Executive Order 9066, President Biden proclaimed February 19, 2022 a Day of Remembrance of Japanese American Incarceration During World War II. While Japanese American incarceration may be a difficult topic to approach with children, we hope that the resources highlighted here can open conversation in honor of the Day of Remembrance this February for teens and mature learners.
Resource #1: Norman Mineta Talks to Children
The late politician Norman Mineta was ten years old when he saw a that read, “Attention. All those of Japanese ancestry, alien and non-alien.” He was confused about why he was being called a “non-alien” as he was born in the United States and therefore a citizen. The notice was the first indication that Mineta’s life would change; soon, his family was forcibly removed from their San Jose house (“excluded” from coastal California) and interned at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. In this powerful talk, he shares at 26:30, “To this day, I cherish the word citizen, because my own government would not use it to describe us.” Mineta grew up to serve in the US Army, local politics, Congress, and as a Cabinet Secretary. His experiences were profiled in the book Enemy Child, which he spoke about to children at the Library in 2019. Use the timestamps below to select different clips to view with your family.
- 24:02–Mineta’s experience as a child seeing evacuation notices
- 35:20–Mineta’s experiences as a Boy Scout in the camps
- 39:48–Mineta’s life immediately after the camps, returning to San Jose
- 45:55–Mineta’s father’s efforts to support the war effort during World War II
- 49:50–Q&A with students begins
Resource #2: Photographs from the War Relocation Authority
During World War II, several artists were employed by the government as photographers. The visual record they created of the camps heavily feature children. Some photographs document how young people made the best out of their situation in the Assembly Centers, playing ping pong on improvised tables or having pillow fights with each other, as they awaited their next destination. How might the fact that these photographers were on assignment from the government have affected the story these photographs tell? Consider the perspectives of the photographer and the subjects of the photographs as you explore the Library’s collection of images relating to Japanese American incarceration here. These pictures are included in LOT 1801.
Resource #3: Newspapers from the Incarceration Camps
As people settled into the camps, they established newspapers as a way to share important information and establish new communities. Newspapers didn’t just contain the voices of adults; “Children Speak on Evacuation” was published in the Gila River Courier in 1943. At the end, a twelve-year-old wonders the fate of his house, and whether or not his garden failed or is overgrowing. He poignantly shares, “I wonder which is better—dying from lack of care or blooming among the woods every year.” Read the full article—as well as browse the entire collection of internment camp newspapers—here.
Resource #4: Traci Chee at the National Book Festival
When Traci Chee was twelve years old, she learned that her grandparents had been incarcerated. Her excavation of family history led her to write We are Not Free, a novel-in-stories documenting life in the camps from the point of view of fourteen teenagers. In 2021, she sat down with Library of Congress teen intern Adeline Yu to discuss the book for the National Book Festival.
- 1:30: Chee speaks about the effect books about Asian Americans had on her when she was young
- 7:57: Chee explains why the book was written with multiple point-of-views
- 19:48: Chee shares her research process including using Library of Congress resources
- 26:06: Chee notes how her grandfather’s experiences are a jumping-off point to discuss Japanese-American military service
- 32:00: Chee shares about the complicated impact the process of reparations had on her family
Finally, Traci Chee compared trauma from incarceration to anti-Asian racism today: “We still have actions that we should be taking and things that we should be learning, because it hasn’t stopped. And that means it’s our responsibility now to stop it.”
- Additional National Book Festival content include a Q & A with Traci Chee.
- Check out some classroom materials that you can find in the Library’s lesson plan, “Japanese American Internment: Fear Itself.”
- A powerful Storymap Behind Barbed Wire: Japanese-American Internment Camp Newspapers shares how newspapers in the voice of internees shared this subject
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