Here’s a short list (so as not to overwhelm) of books and stories which help illustrate different aspects of this complex American tale:
Hold These Truths: a new play by Jeanne Sakata
Hold These Truths is the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, an American of Japanese ethnicity who as a student at the University of Washington defied the curfew placed on Americans of Japanese ancestry by the US government in the 1940s (they could not be out between 8pm and 6am or they would be put under arrest). By doing so, he became one of four Americans at the time (Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui and Mitsuye Endo were the other three) to take cases to the Supreme Court. It is also the story of how the Quaker community, singularly, came to his aid. One reviewer called it the most important play of this summer (2017). It is scheduled to travel around the country. If it comes to your town, I would grab a ticket for you and a friend right away!
Before “Maus” there was:
by Mine Okubo
First published in 1946, the graphic “manga” novel documents Okubo’s life as an art student at Berkeley in the 1940s as war breaks out first in Europe and then the United States. Not allowed to bring a camera to the camps, she uses paper, crayon and her skills as an artist to depict what happened as events unfold. Great for any age.
To see the role of the media in times of crisis and how truth is one of the casualties:
Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II
by Richard Reeves
Award-winning journalist, columnist and currently the senior lecturer at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He told me how he remembers driving past signs for “Manzanar” when taking his family on ski trips to Mammoth Mountain, while living in California. He says he noticed the sign but never stopped to find out what really happened. Many books and many years later, when he finally did, he was surprised by what he found.
What was the President thinking?
By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans
by Greg Robinson
Harvard University Press
Robinson is a Professor of History at l'Université du Québec À Montréal and a specialist in North American Ethnic Studies and U.S. Political History. In order to answer the above question, he used FDR’s own writings, his advisors’ letters and diaries, and internal government documents to find out how and why the decision to incarcerate was made.
*A fourth option for those who want to look at the official findings by the US Government’s Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians:
Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and
Internment of Civilians
University of Washington Press
Asians, the “Perpetual Foreigner”:
The Making of Asian America: A History
by Erika Lee
Simon and Shuster
Before the Portuguese figured out how to get around the Africa's Cape of Good Hope, all roads lead to China through the Silk Road and its established trade routes. After that, the Portuguese became the first colonial empire and opened up the floodgates for European empire building. Erika Lee’s extensive history looks at the experience of Asian peoples in the Americas starting with those who were first brought here as slaves by the Spanish as early as the mid-1500’s as a result of the Galleon Trade which went from the Philippines to Peru via Mexico and lasted for over 250 years. While the book is primarily a look at the Asian-American experience in the US, she touches on the various waves of Asian immigrant groups to come to the new world with hopes for a new life, up to the present.
To learn more about the man historians say was the “architect of Internment":
The Colonel and The Pacifist: Karl Bendetsen, Perry Saito and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II
by Klancy Klark de Nevers
University of Utah Press
Her book tells the story of WWII and what happened here on the home front from the lives of two individuals from the small town of Aberdeen, Washington, both of whom would go on to play a big role in the story of the US imprisonment of citizens of Japanese ethnicity. The author herself was born and raised in Aberdeen. Her family published a weekly called Gray’s Harbor Post. Her book grew out of the editing and research she did for a book published by a columnist for her family’s paper. From that project, she became interested in knowing more about this war hero, who was born in her hometown. This is the story that unravelled.
For an fascinating account of what it was like in the camps from the perspective of someone who was on the other side of the fence:
We Were Prisoners, Too: The Effects of World War II
by Louise Korn Waldron
This is a memoir by Louise Korn Waldron, who spent her early years at a “camp” as the daughter of Lewis Korn, the first director of the Gila River “Relocation Camp.” Her book recounts what it was like growing up with the man who set one of the ten “Jap camps” and the painstaking research she did through private letters and government documents to find out more about something her father refused to talk about during his lifetime. According to the author, "He found conditions so horrific and out of his control that joined the Army to escape.”
If I had to pick one book to explore all the complex issues surrounding this story, I would pick this one:
Only What They Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience
edited by Lawson Fusao Inada
While the term “internment” is a bit old fashioned, this book gives amazing clarity to a story rife with euphemism, war propaganda and the fake news of its time. Not a straightforward narrative, the editor, like an archeologist who tries to piece together an ancient vase and unearth the object’s story, Inada takes fragments from various sources, including original newspaper articles, poems, art work, essays, government documents and even excerpts from novels, like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to slowly reveal a picture of how civil liberties and rights of citizenship can disappear when fear and prejudice are used to shape media coverage, government policy and, ultimately, public opinion.
A few documentaries to help understand life after incarceration:
Pilgramage by Tadashi Nakamura (2003)
The story of the younger generation slowly trying to make sense of what happened in the wake of the civil rights movement.
The Cats of Mirikitani by Linda Hattendorf (2006)
An amazing story that slowly came to light when a young filmmaker befriends a Japanese-American homeless man in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.
Kash: the Legend and Legacy of Shiro Kashino by Vince Mastudaira (2011)
This tells the story of those who went and fought for their country in WWII, despite facing discrimination and incarceration for themselves and their families and what happened to them when they got back.
Online education center featuring multidisciplinary curriculum, instructional guides, and primary source material that allow teachers and students to connect with the lived experiences of Japanese Americans
Densho's Facebook page
The Debate Over Japanese Internment Is Deeply Flawed
Essay by Constitutional Scholar Kermit Roosevelt in Time Magazine
Tule Lake Lessons: Tools Against Trumpism
Essay on Dailykos about what can we learn from what happened at Tule Lake
The forgotten history of Japanese-American designers’ World War II internment
Revisiting the link between detention and design history, 75 years after FDR’s executive order
The Forgotten Government Plan to Round Up Muslims
Article about how mass detention and deportation for Muslims was first explored in the 80’s and how one man made a difference, in Politico
From Internee To College Student: UConn’s Enrollment Of Japanese-Americans During World War II (audio)
One East Coast College that made a difference for a lucky few, featured on WNPR’s “Where We Live”
Prisoners in their own land: 75 years after Japanese internment (video)
A brief but very informative explanation which illustrates what happened to those in Washington State
Japanese Internment and its Implications for Today
How censorship worked during WWII and beyond here in the United States, as seen through the story of photographer Dorothea Lange
One-Two-One-Seven: A Story of Japanese Internment (video)
An award-winning video which tells a very poignant story of what happened to a once prosperous Japanese-American family in California
When Lies Overruled Rights
Contrary to what is believed, many challenged incarceration and four even went to the Supreme Court, but it’s taken 75 years and a President Trump for their voices to be finally heard.