News / USA

Japanese-American Internment Camp Site Reopens as Museum

Wyoming's Heart Mountain once housed 14,000 detainees

Most of the artifacts at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center were donated by former internees.
Most of the artifacts at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center were donated by former internees.

Multimedia

Audio
Irina Zhorov

The site of a Japanese internment camp during World War II has been transformed into the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center in Wyoming. The grand opening is this weekend.

During World World II, as the United States battled Japan and the other Axis powers, 14,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated at a remote camp. Ex-internees, their descendants and local residents worked together to develop a place that would tell the stories of the forced relocation and teach its visitors lessons for the future.

Back in time

The road to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, is lined with golden fields of hay in late summer. The landscape is mostly empty until a tall smokestack appears on the horizon, growing into a vertical dark line above the fields. It’s all that remains of the hospital at Heart Mountain Internment Camp. Then Heart Mountain itself looms in the distance.

Replicas of barracks have been erected where the original camp stood. They house the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center. Walking into the newly opened museum is to travel back in time, surrounded by the faces and voices of those who were held here against their will.

Steve Leger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center, stands in a replica of a lived-in barracks room.
Steve Leger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center, stands in a replica of a lived-in barracks room.

Steve Leger, the center’s executive director, leads the way past an exhibit showing the internment orders that were posted in Western cities.

In the hysteria that followed Japan’s surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese-American families across the West were ordered to pack what they could carry and get on trains headed to isolated camps like the one at Heart Mountain.

At the time, the camp was the third largest town in Wyoming.    

Exhibits follow the timeline, from normal life on the West Coast to sudden deportation. The history is written as first-person accounts with recorded testimony by ex-internees.

Acknowleding internees' plight

Ten Japanese internment camps were set up during the war. Only two have established centers to acknowledge and pay tribute to what internees went through. The museum at Manzanar, in California, is run by the federal government.

Shirley Ann Higuchi, chairman of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, stands next to a life-size photo of her parents taken in the camp.
Shirley Ann Higuchi, chairman of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, stands next to a life-size photo of her parents taken in the camp.

Heart Mountain was set up by a private non-profit organization. Shirley Ann Higuchi, whose parents were interned here as children, is the chairman of the mostly Japanese-American board responsible for running the center.

She  learned only recently about the importance of Heart Mountain to her parents, who were second-generation Japanese-Americans, or Nisei.  

"When this experience occurred, the Nisei, being the quiet American and not talking much about this, their philosophy was to always look ahead, to endure, to keep on pushing forward and don’t look back," says Higuchi. "I think part of what occurred during that process was they really didn’t have the time to really process this and grieve and get angry."  

This learning center, she says, is one way to help the Japanese-American community do that and heal.

Time for reflection

Board member Doug Nelson says that the issues addressed by the center are relevant today, as the nation confronts a different enemy.

"Throughout American history, but you don’t have to think too much beyond today, the effort to balance our national security with our protection of people’s individual civil rights has always been in time of war or national anxiety, has always been a difficult balancing act."

In that respect, Nelson hopes the center will provide the opportunity for education, as well as reflection.

A replica of one of the camp’s watch towers in the exact place where it once stood. The smoke stack of the hospital is in the background.
A replica of one of the camp’s watch towers in the exact place where it once stood. The smoke stack of the hospital is in the background.

He notes that during the war, some of the camp’s neighbors accepted the argument that Japanese-Americans were a threat to the United States. Others rejected that idea, and sympathized with and befriended internees. In fact, it was local residents who wanted to establish the center and got former internees involved.

In addition to their memories, those who spent time here contributed artifacts and photographs.

Higuchi walks from a life-size image of her parents as adolescents at the camp to a more recent photo taken at an annual reunion. Several generations of internees and their families smile as they stand atop Heart Mountain.

Higuchi reads a quote from an elderly man who returned for the reunion. "I return to Heart Mountain to grieve, for all that was taken from us, our homes our lives, our voices. I return to Heart Mountain to celebrate the strong spirit that helped us survive, the traditions we kept and treasured and the bravery, creativity and courage of people who faced prejudice and hardship with dignity and determination. I return to Heart Mountain to remember."

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid