Powell, Wyo (May 20, 2016) — After President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, ten “War Relocation Centers” were set up across the U.S. to confine approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans who were then living on the West Coast.
Seventy-four years later those sites of incarceration stand as a reminder of the power of fear, war hysteria, and racism. On Friday, May 13, 2016, representatives from each of the “camps” and other supporting institutions gathered in Washington, D.C. to share a vision of collaboration for saving, interpreting, and educating the public about this history and these historic sites.
“This gathering is about creating support for one another and a network of people working toward ensuring this important history is more widely known,” said Brian Liesinger, executive director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. “We believe it is critical to have a platform for the leaders of the confinement sites and other stakeholders to gather with a concentrated effort and purpose.”
While informal and collegial connections between the sites already exist, the distance between them makes it difficult to directly collaborate. Each site is at a different stage in development, and each organization has its own regional audience. However, the sites share similar challenges as they labor to preserve the physical confinement sites, structures, and artifacts, as well as the stories of those affected.
The Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium project is funded, in part, by a grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Japanese Confinement Sites Grant Program.
“When the grant program was established there was a hope that groups interested in preserving these sites and sharing this history would come together to increase the awareness and impact to a greater cross-section of our nation,” said Tom Leatherman, Superintendent at Eugene O’Neill NHS, John Muir NHS, Port Chicago Naval Magazine NMem, Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front NHP. “The consortium is a realization of this vision and the National Park Service is interested in being involved in helping to further these efforts. Only through working together can we help to ensure that something like what happened to the Japanese American community during WWII never happens to another group again.”
The grant was written by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, who has served as the initial organizers and host during the creation stages of the Consortium. The grant funding provided an initial meeting last August at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and the recent meeting in Washington, D.C.
All ten sites representing the original “War Relocation Centers” were in attendance, including: Gila River and Poston in Arizona; Rohwer and Jerome in Arkansas; Manzanar and Tule Lake in California; Amache in Colorado; Minidoka in Idaho; Topaz in Utah; and Heart Mountain in Wyoming. They shared the table with representatives from stakeholder organizations such as the Ad Hoc Committee to Preserve Japanese American Heritage, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, Densho, Japanese American Citizens League, Japanese American National Museum, National Veterans Network, and the National Park Service.
Former Secretary of Transportation and Commerce, Norman Mineta, was present as well. Mineta serves as an advisor for both Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and the Japanese American National Museum. As a child, Mineta and his family were incarcerated at Heart Mountain. When he spoke during the meeting on May 13, he explained the importance of the work the Consortium was doing. “We are not only reaching new heights, but bringing new generations into the fold.”
The meeting was kicked off on Thursday night when Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae held a reception for members of the Consortium at his residence. During the event, the Consortium recognized the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, for his dedication and commitment to preserving the sites of confinement.
On Friday, a working session was held that included the creation of a Steering Committee that will organize the group’s future activities and collaborations. The gathering was capped off with a tour of the Japanese American Memorial on Saturday morning. Memorial Architect, Davis Buckley, spoke to the Consortium members about the design and creation of the Memorial. In addition, six high school students, who are part of a national project to create digital stories for the Memorial, were there as part of their creative and educational journey.
The students will be traveling to Heart Mountain this summer to participate in a Digital Storytelling Workshop with multi-Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Jeff MacIntyre and David Ono. The workshop will be part of the annual Heart Mountain Pilgrimage taking place July 29-30 in Cody and at the Interpretive Center.
“This Consortium will build each organization’s capacity to preserve, protect, and interpret historic sites, artifacts, and experiences,” said Shirley Ann Higuchi, Chair of the Board of Directors for Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. “We will highlight the social justice lessons resulting from the incarceration experience and the ways in which abuses of civil and human rights endanger the rights of all Americans.”
The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center is located between Cody and Powell, WY, on Highway 14A at 1539 Road 19, Powell, WY 82435. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, members and children under 12 are free. For more information call (307) 754-8000, visit www.heartmountain.org or on social media at facebook.com/HeartMountainWY and https://twitter.com/heartmountainwy.