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Former Secretary of Commerce and Transportation Norman Mineta gives a keynote speech during the All Camps Consortium meeting. Photos: Helen Yoshida

Participants, including representatives from all 10 War Relocation Authority confinement sites, come together to educate the broader community.

By Helen Yoshida, Contributor

Leadership from national Japanese American organizations and all 10 War Relocation Authority
confinement sites convened in Washington, D.C., from May 12-14 for an All Camps Consortium meeting.

The Consortium is a collaborative effort to build each organizations’ capacity to preserve, protect and interpret historic sites, artifacts and stories from the Japanese American incarceration experience during World War II.

The three-day event began with a reception at Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae’s residence, where former Secretary of Commerce and Transportation Norman Mineta recognized National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis on behalf of the Consortium for his work to preserve the history of the World War II Japanese American confinement experience.

“We are grateful that you have promoted stewardship, educational programs for the public and the engagement of new audiences to the Japanese American story, a tragic chapter in our history,” said Mineta. “Your conscientious supervision of the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) Program and support of Japanese American sites in the National Park Service reflects a tremendous commitment to preserve these historic places, so future generations may learn and gain inspiration from them.”

More than 60 representatives from national Japanese American organizations and all 10 War  Relocation Authority confinement sites participated in the All Camps Consortium meeting on May 13.

More than 60 representatives from national Japanese American organizations and all 10 War
Relocation Authority confinement sites participated in the All Camps Consortium meeting on May 13.

On May 13, site representatives and stakeholder organizations met at the Washington, D.C., offices of Hogan Lovells LLP to discuss the objectives and structure of the Consortium and effort required to create a successful and sustainable network.

More than 60 participants attended, including delegates from Arkansas State University (Rohwer and Jerome sites), Amache Historical Society II, Friends of Manzanar, Friends of Minidoka, Gila River, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF), Manzanar Committee, Minidoka Pilgrimage, Poston Community Alliance, Topaz Museum, Tule Lake Committee and the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project.

Stakeholder organizations represented were the Ad Hoc Committee of the “Japanese American History: Not for Sale” Facebook page, Amherst College, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, Densho, Fred T. Korematsu Institute, Go For Broke National Education Center, Japanese American Citizens League, Japanese American National Museum, Kizuna, National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, the National Japanese American Historical Society, NPS, National Veterans Network, Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, Oregon Nikkei Endowment, Smithsonian National Museum of American History and Yale University.

While there have been “All Camps” summits in previous years, partnerships have not been sustained between groups. While the JACS program has helped build public awareness around the incarceration history, groups have tended to work in isolation. However, a renewed interest to build a lasting network resulted in the HMWF’s successful bid for JACS funding to form an All Camps Consortium.

“These stakeholders must work together to preserve the original sites and stories of incarceration, build each organization’s capacity to share resources and information and educate the broader community. In creating this Consortium, we are fostering a culture of communication, inclusiveness and multigenerational engagement to ensure that this history is not forgotten,” said HMWF Chair Shirley Ann Higuchi.

Psychotherapist and former Tule Lake incarceree Satsuki Ina led a discussion about how preserving the history and original sites of the incarceration experience is essential to healing the trauma and divisions that persist in the Japanese American community. She described how past generations lost their dignity, dreams, livelihoods, educational opportunities and more with the forced removal and discussed how this meeting marked a historic gathering of leaders.

“This call for an All Camps Consortium demands that we move beyond the age-old camp divide,” Ina said.

The Consortium’s foundation was established through an initial August 2015 meeting at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center in Wyoming. This second gathering in the nation’s capital featured keynote presentations by Ina and Mineta, structured brainstorming sessions led by Densho Executive Director Tom Ikeda and panel discussions around connecting the confinement sites to Washington, D.C., engaging younger audiences and conservation updates on the Allen H. Eaton items.

Representatives from the Arkansas State University Heritage Sites (Rohwer and Jerome sites), the Ad Hoc Committee of “Japanese American History: Not for Sale,” APAICS, Densho, Friends of Minidoka, HMWF, Kizuna, JACL, Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee, NJAMF, NJAHS, NPS and the Tule Lake Committee formed a steering committee to move the Consortium effort into its next phase.

The event closed with presentations at the National Japanese American Memorial on May 14. Franklin Odo, founding director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, noted the ability of memorials to tell stories that are often not included in the nation’s recorded history. He was followed by Memorial architect Davis Buckley, who discussed the memorial’s history and symbolism. To create a compelling memorial, Buckley noted that all participants involved should advocate for the project each day they are working on it.

“Through good friends in Congress who recognized founding principles of what the memorial represents, we got the memorial,” Buckley said.

Following the presentations, NJAMF leadership announced six student scholarship winners from across the nation who are creating digital stories of the camps to supplement memorial visitors’ experiences.

Martha Castro of the College Preparatory School in Oakland, Calif.; Carolyn Hoover and Reed Leventis of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, M.D.; Julia Shin of Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio; Halle Sousa of Notre Dame High School in San Jose,
Calif.; and Connor Yu of Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., will tell the stories of Tule Lake, Topaz, Poston, Manzanar, Amache and Heart Mountain, respectively.

These students will also travel to Wyoming to participate in a Digital Storytelling Workshop during the Heart Mountain Pilgrimage, which is set for July 29-30. The students will work with Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Jeff MacIntyre and David Ono to incorporate summer research and interviews with former incarcerees to create short films using audio, video, photographs and music.

Excerpts will be aired during the pilgrimage, and postproduction on the students’ stories will be conducted by the filmmakers. The completed stories will be uploaded to an app for memorial visitors, and it is hoped that they will be widely shared online to not only raise awareness but also foster youth engagement and show how lessons from the incarceration experience are still relevant to preserving Americans’ rights and liberties today.