Written by Jane Kurahara
Over ten years ago, while fielding what we thought was a routine request for information made to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii’s resource center, our eyes were opened to the need to preserve a thinly documented period of Hawaii’s World War II history. A local TV station requested the exact location of the Honouliuli internment camp site. To our dismay, not only could we not determine the location, but in our efforts to answer the question we also encountered numerous people who said they did not know that people had been forcibly detained during World War II in Hawai‘i or that there were internment camps here!
This inquiry masked a deeper universal historical need for the general public to be informed that challenges to civil rights occur whenever there are threats to national security. Thus, from one relatively simple request for information from a constituent grew a research process which has informed a variety of outcomes. Sifting through existing data and reference materials led to tangible results.
JCCH mounted an effort to collect, preserve and inventory surviving internee papers and arts and crafts. The fast-aging population of surviving internees is being interviewed to preserve their oral histories. An interpretive display and traveling exhibit, “Dark Clouds Over Paradise: The Hawai‘i Internees Story,” has been developed to share with the general public. A trilogy of internee accounts of their internment experiences is being prepared, using narrative, letters, and poetry. The first account has been published: a translation of Yasutaro Soga’s Life Behind Barbed Wire and the others are in development. In partnership with the Hawai‘i State Department of Education we are working to ensure that students study some facet of the history of internment during World War II in three required courses in grades 10 and 11. Because primary sources for teaching the story of World War II internment in Hawai‘i are difficult for teachers to find, folders of primary source material resources have been donated to every public high school.
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