“Do you think there could ever be concentration camps in the USA?” asked my eighth grade teacher.
Some students answered no. I remembered one of the short stories collected in The Big Book For Peace, about a boy in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. That was the topic my teacher was leading to, the fact that our country once had concentration camps.
We read another short story that day, The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida, who was put in a camp with her family in Nevada. As best as I can remember, this was in English class and we didn’t really cover the topic as part of the history curriculum. In college a Japanese American man visited and spoke about his experiences being interned as a boy. Since two of these experiences (a library book and a lecture) were voluntary, perhaps it isn’t surprising that sometimes even adults have never heard of these internments during World War II.
At the end of 2016, I shared a list of fiction and nonfiction about Japanese American internment. We still own most of those books (and all of them are available through Pinnacle). Some new ones have been published since then, including a title on the list of nominees for the 2020 Rebecca Caudill Award: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up.
So far not many copies of that book have been checked out compared to other nominated titles, but I think now would be a good time to read it. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently referred to the places where migrants are detained as “concentration camps.” Some people were shocked, thinking of how the term is primarily applied to Nazi death camps. Some books, including Uchida’s, use the term to refer to the internment of Japanese Americans. Some do not. There is more than one Library of Congress subject heading, including:
Japanese Americans evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945
World War, 1939-1945 — Concentration camps — United States
Here are some of the new books on Japanese American internment:
Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II by Andrea Warren
A biography of Norman Mineta, from his internment as a child in Heart Mountain Internment Camp during World War II, through his political career including serving in congress for ten terms during which time he was instrumental in getting the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 passed which provided reparations and an apology to those who were interned. Suggested for grades 4-6 or ages 10 and up
Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi; illustrations by Yutaka Houlette
Fred Korematsu’s life changed when the United States went to war with Japan in 1941 and the government forced all people of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes on the West Coast and move to distant prison camps. This included Fred, whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Japan many years before. But Fred refused to go. He knew that what the government was doing was unfair. And when he got put in jail for resisting, he knew he couldn’t give up. Suggested for grades 4-8
Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II by Albert Marrin
A nonfiction Sibert Honor Book about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Suggested for ages 12 and up
Write To Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady; illustrated by Amiko Hirao
This nonfiction picture book includes excerpts from children’s letters held at the Japanese American National Museum. Suggested for ages 4-8 or kindergarten to grade 3.
George Takei will also publish a new graphic memoir for young adults next month.
You can also read about how Japanese Americans who lived in these camps are responding to current events.