Amache exhibit tells story of Japanese internment

Oct. 22, 2012

April Wefler
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In 1942, more than 100,000 American citizens were relocated to internment camps for one reason: They were of Japanese heritage.

The Heller Center is featuring an exhibit on the stories of members of the Amache camp, paired with archeological pieces, Oct. 18 through Nov. 5.

After Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, there was “a lot of fear and animosity,” said Karin Larkin, curator of anthropology.

Because the Japanese attacked the Hawaiian military base, the U.S. government ordered the internment of anyone of Japanese heritage by Executive Order 9066.

As written on the History Matters website, in the Executive Order 9066, “President Roosevelt, encouraged by officials at all levels of the federal government, authorized the internment of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan.”

According to the University of California’s Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives, although the attack on Pearl Harbor was in Hawaii, Japanese-Americans living in Hawaii made up 40 percent of the population and were not forced to relocate. However, Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were forced to relocate.

Ten internment camps were set up all over the western United States. The Granada Relocation Center, or Amache internment camp in Granada, Co., imprisoned 7,000 Japanese-Americans from 1942-1945.

Students from the University of Denver talked to community members from the Amache camp and learned their stories, which will be featured in the exhibit.

Minette Church, associate professor of anthropology, saw DU’s Amache exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology last summer and thought it would be a great match for the Heller Center because the Heller Center’s theme is the history and culture of southern Colorado, explained Larkin.

“I think it’s important to understand what ignorance in other cultures, fear, stereotyping, how dangerous those things can be,” Larkin said. “I think it really shows that these were American citizens, and they were treated very wrongly.”

“If we don’t understand culture and cultural context and current events, then we can make some serious mistakes. Stereotyping especially is very dangerous,” she added.

The exhibit features a map showing the locations of the internment camps and a poster placed all over the California coast that informed Japanese-American citizens that they had a week to relocate to the camps.

Additionally, there are several architectural pieces, such as an ink bottle with a description explaining that the Japanese-Americans found a way to keep writing in the Japanese style.

Larkin mentioned that one piece is a bucket of tar and tar paper. “It talks about how the government made these promises that they would give these people nice places to live, and they [the people] were out there all the time, tarring and papering the tents that they were in to keep the elements away,” she explained.

“It talks about the falseness of claims,” she added. “There’s poignant ones too where they talk about playing games or marbles.”

For Larkin, the exhibit helps people remember the history surrounding the internment camp.

“A lot of people don’t know; the history is being forgotten and it’s important to remember these events so that we don’t repeat these events,” she said.