The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center – WWII Japanese American Confinement Site

Vicki’s and my plan for today was not going to be much fun, but it was necessary. We visited the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, which was a Japanese American confinement site or concentration camp, depending on who you speak to, during WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. More than 130,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two thirds of whom were American citizens, were uprooted and displaced away from the coasts. The northernmost camp was at Heart Mountain, near Powell, Wyoming.

The centre is privately run and really well laid out, giving a full portrait of the injustices and racism the Japanese Americans faced that culminated in their internment. I had a lot of prior knowledge and Vicki almost none and we both felt that the material was at our level. I alternated between anger and grief as I moved through the exhibits and then went above the centre to do the walking trail and tour the ruins of the hospital complex.

The internees spent three years in the camp, which sounds like so little time, but their lives were destroyed. Even release from the camp did not bring freedom because there was still such a strong anti-Japanese sentiment. The younger folks did better than the elders since they were sheltered from the harsh realities of camp. They were able to be children while the adults fought against boredom and scarcity. There were many suicides before and after release.

Some internees tried to return home after the war, but found there was no home to go back to. With just $25 and a ticket to anywhere in the US, they were released back into a world that did not want them. Wyoming’s governor went on record to say that he did not want the Japanese to stay in Wyoming. The stigma of internship has remained through the generations, with these American citizens passing on to their children that they were somehow inferior to the Caucasians. Most of the adults interred in the camps chose to pretend those three years did not happen.

What the United States did to the Japanese during World War II is not unique. Canada did the same thing, a little known fact that the lady at the centre said she had only just very recently found out. What distresses me is that the current climate in the United States feels very ripe for this sort of thing to happen again. Please, please, please go visit Heart Mountain if you are in the Yellowstone region or the Manzanar National Historic site in California.

This post was fact checked by Vicki. Thank you!

13 thoughts on “The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center – WWII Japanese American Confinement Site

  1. What a sad but interesting place. Canada indeed had the same camps. A friend of our brother and parents spent time in one after losing their home, property and business, seized by the Canadian Government when the war started.

    It is not at all difficult to imagine these same camps filled with Muslims and/or Hispanics if Trump is successful in his bid for the Presidency, a clear indication that we did not learn from our history.

      • I can imagine new internment/re-education camps filled with conservatives and Trump executed if Hillary Clinton wins.

        I think there will be camps again the only thing that is undecided is who will be the internees and who will be the guards.

  2. Rae, this post was SO interesting…..

    Welcome Home to Canada!
    Even with the horrible forest fires going on Northern Alberta, very tragic!

  3. When you are in Europe you wll see a lot of merorials dedicated to WWII. Sadly history repeats itself and the nastiness of war continues on a daily basis…

    A very interesting post. Many Japanese in Richmond, BC lost everything. In turn as a child, my mother spent four years in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia…

    • I suspect I will find the WWII memorials just as hard. As a history major, I remain boggled by how cyclical history is.

      Thank you for sharing that story about your mother. Wow…

  4. My aunt & uncle lived in Japan for seven years in the 1950s & 60s. My aunt told me there were public restrooms alongside the roads, They had separate doors for men and women but there were no interior dividers–it was all one room. She got used to sharing with Japanese men but when a US friend came she could not go in while he was in there.

    Many years later there was a woman who would come into the store where I worked bringing musty money that smelled like it had been buried. We guessed her family had hid it before internment.

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