Twenty years ago, on April 3, 1998, an exhibition opened on Ellis Island which explained the difference between two types of government facilities used in the US during WWII to imprison citizens and non-citizens of the US. It poses the question..what do you do if your government turns against you, not for what you did…but for what you are? And did having US citizenship matter? In the 1940’s, the answer was no. There is a term for that kind of imprisonment...
US Internment Camp
- A Matter of Due Process -
US Concentration Camp
- A Form of State-Sanctioned Racism -
One tea bowl = 1,000 individuals
Image 1: “Ellis Island - 16 tea bowls”
Over 31,000 individuals were rounded up and put in internment camps run by the DOJ and the INS. These Individuals were mostly foreign nationals.
Those imprisoned in these facilities were arrested with charges and given a hearing. If they were unable to prove their innocence, they were held until deported. These facilities were protected by the Geneva Conventions. This was legal.
11,500 German foreign nationals
3,000 Italian foreign nationals
16,500 Japanese foreign nationals (most were released to one of the ten US concentration camps)
Image 2: “Manzanar, CA - 120 tea bowls”
The US concentration camps were run by the military and administered by the WRA. Anyone with 1/16th Japanese blood in the western half of the western states (where most of them lived) were rounded up (even orphans in orphanages) and imprisoned for the duration of WWII. No one was ever charged, given a trial or hearing, and the prisons were not protected by the Geneva Conventions. This was not legal.
Concentration camps are historically a very specific kind of incarceration which has been used as a tool of empire. It’s the imprisonment of a concentration of a particular group of people solely for who they are, not for what they did.
FDR helped promote universal human rights and yet removed the rights he said were a basic part of all Americans’ lives from certain citizens, most of whom had been in the US for multiple generations and who had committed no crime.
There is a historic pattern of “removing the other” in America. It continues to happen today.
My Yellow Bowl Project hopes to spur discussion around these questions: Who is an American? What does citizenship mean? How long do you have to be in the US to be considered a bonafide member of this group?