They called it “camp”

Talk to elderly Issei or Nisei, and they invariably refer to their experience in “camp.”  Which camp were you in?  Did you go to camp?  Where did you go after camp?

“Camp” wasn’t an idyllic, rustic cabin on a lake somewhere.  It was a concentration camp in some g-d forsaken place.  They lived in tarpaper shacks or horse stalls under armed guard.

“Camp” meant “concentration camp.”  They knew what it was.  The government knew it too.  Even President Roosevelt called them concentration camps.

But now they are “internment centers” or “relocation centers.”  They were for the protection of Americans of Japanese descent.  The “non-aliens.”

They weren’t detention centers and they weren’t prisoners and they weren’t concentrations camps.  They were free to leave at any time.  They were internees and they were being relocated.  For their own protection.

But words matter.


5 thoughts on “They called it “camp”

  1. Living in Norway, I actually learned about internment camps and part of the history through Fort Minor’s song ‘Kenji’ which I thought was pretty awesome. Do you know of any other artists of Japanese or another (but not caucasian) descent who have spoken on this issue through their music? This seems to be another much overlooked, ignored and silenced issue in the fabric of race relations in Amerikkka.

    Have a good weekend.

  2. They were of course concentration camps. And we have them now for the latest American scapegoats, Mexican (and Latin-American in general, but of course if you speak Spanish and you’re brown, we’re just going to call you Mexican, regardless of your country of origin) immigrants. Sheriff Arpaio of Arizona even was caught on videotape laughing and calling his “detention centers” “concentration camps.” It’s disgusting the lengths Americans will go to to use euphemisms to hide things they’re ashamed of, rather than just get rid of the things causing shame.

  3. Years ago, one of my professors was complaining about the euphemisms we use in North America. He used PTSD as an example: “Back when I was a young man, we called it ‘shell shocked.’ Doesn’t that sound harsher than ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’? It made people pay attention, see that it was a problem that needed to be addressed. PTSD makes it easier to overlook and think, ‘Oh, that’s not so bad.'”

    This is what I think of when I hear things like “internment camps.”

  4. I am forever grateful to the teacher who noticed in the ninth grade that I was reading the Diary of Anne Frank and recommended “Farewell to Manzanera” a young woman’s memoir of living in the California concentration camp. It showed me that there were appalling things we had to recognize on our own doorsteps and not “somewhere over there” beyond our geographical and personal boundaries. Several years later I was privileged to meet Jean Anne Trickey and listen firsthand to her experiences of school desegregation in the US and to survivors who described their years in the Canadian government mandated residential schools. Words matter and hearing the voices telling the stories and naming the experience matter. This site matters and helps me show my son a different way from how I was raised and educated.

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