September 28, 2010
Written by C.N.
The history of 120,000+ Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II for nothing more than their Japanese ancestry is one of the saddest examples of government-sanctioned racism in American history. Fortunately, in 1986, a bipartisan Congressional committee officially concluded that this episode was indeed a “grave injustice” that resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” and eventually, surviving Japanese American prisoners received a symbolic $20,000 reparation amount as a result.
Since then, three of the 20+ prison camp sites have been officially designated as National Historical Sites by the U.S. National Park Service — Manzanar and Tule Lake in California and Minidoka in Idaho. Unfortunately, as Regina Weiss recently wrote in the Huffington Post, the Minidoka site is in danger of becoming practically extinct:
[L]ast week . . . Judge Robert Elgee of Idaho’s Fifth District ruled in favor of the developers who plan to build a 13,000-head cattle feedlot adjacent to Minidoka, rendering it a historic attraction in name only. . . . Today, not even a decade after the Minidoka Internment Camp was promised permanent preservation as a National Historic Site, it is threatened with becoming permanently overshadowed by the massive waste lagoons, poisoned air and putrid water that characterize Idaho’s dairy CAFOs.
To quote one area resident who wants the project stopped, “If you imagine visiting a park near a CAFO, you wouldn’t even want to get out of the car, let alone have a picnic, peruse the waysides [or ] look for names on the Honor Roll.” Or, as Dan Everhart, president of the board of Preservation Idaho, put it, allowing the CAFO to go forward “would be a de facto closing of the [historic] site because no one would be able to get out of the car.” . . .
In a cruel twist of irony, the threat represented by the proposed confined animal feeding operation (CAFO, or factory farm) landed Minidoka on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of American’s Most Endangered Historic Places. Whether the CAFO will swallow up the historic site now depends on whether opponents of the proposed development can afford to appeal the August 3 ruling.
Ms. Weiss’s article provides a very nice history lesson about the contributions of Japanese American farmers to the western region of the U.S. and notes that even during their imprisonment and after their own farms were confiscated from them, Japanese Americans inside many of these camps were recruited to grow crops to help support U.S. troops fighting abroad.
The arguments about the multiple dangers of such corporate “farms” has been well-documented so I will only argue that, as a place of profound injustice and a history lesson about one of our government’s saddest mistakes and later, one of its proudest acts of redemption, the Minidoka site needs to be preserved. History is not always pleasant to learn about, but for the sake of future generations, it is important that we do.
If you would like to contribute to the effort to preserve the Minidoka War Relocation Center National Historical Site, please consider donating to Friends of Minidoka and their ongoing work to prevent its functional destruction.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Save the Minidoka Internment Historical Site" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2010/09/save-minidoka-internment-historical-site/> ().
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