Heading out the following morning around 10am, we filled up in Powell at $3.23 a gallon and drove straight to Heart Mountain to learn about one of the 10 American concentration camps during World War II. An informative and enlightening experience unfolded as we discovered the realities behind the 'relocation' and 'internment' of thousands of American Citizens.
The 'camp' was nothing short of a prison, detaining 14,000 people with Japanese ancestry from August of 1942 until November of 1945, two months after the war ended. Not learning much about these relocation centers in the American public schools I attended, I was quickly reminded America's past is never that far behind us. Lurking in the shadows of a forgotten history are the thick scars of oppression and bigotry. Creaking along a cogwheel system of habitual entitlement, the belief of race superiority doesn't lie dormant in the pages of long ago, it still screams loudly among us.
Using the fear sparked by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt and his bigotry reigned supreme, as he and the media spun a web of prejudice to convince the nation of the many dangers to come if these Japanese citizens were allowed to roam freely.
Immersed in the self-guided tour, it didn't take long to recognize the recycled rhetoric still used today. The divisiveness it creates, allowing the rampant white supremacy ingrained into the fabric of our country to fester.
Although the thousands of imprisoned Japanese at Heart Mountain, and the other 9 'relocation centers' in various states, were not tortured, or murdered, they were definitely not treated like humans. The barracks were constructed in such a way that 6-8 family members shared one room, as barracks were divided into small sections inside. Toilets were installed side by side without privacy partitions.
During the early months of filling the camps with prisoners, food was sparse. Many came from their homes thousands of miles away, forced to leave their businesses and homes behind. Later, prisoners were granted permission to grow gardens and construct a root cellar. The hospital, kitchen, housekeeping, and laundry were all staffed and ran by those forced to live behind barbed wire and armed guards, for no other reason than their ethnicity.
Wondering about the property we ventured to an original barrack that had been recently donated back, (most were sold, or torn down after the facility closed). The reconstruction of the divided rooms speaks volumes to how difficult it must have been to pack 8 family members into one small space. The hospital and boiler room are still standing, though crumbling to the point they are not accessible to anyone. I was able to get a few inside photos from outside windows that are now covered in cage wire.
Much to my surprise the Japanese were not the only ethnicity targeted during WWII, over 11,000 Germans and 3,000 Italians were also detained, labeled 'alien enemies', though many were citizens. Finding myself faced with this very real and blatant human rights violations, I quickly realized how much has not changed in the United States. This grand American Experiment in democracy, cradling its ideals of freedom on worn and faded parchment, have yet to come close to realizing them.
Adventures filled with unknowns and small surprises often make the journey more desirable. Sometimes, not so hidden in the hills of dust and time, we find the gaping wounds of America's own atrocities, still oozing beneath the scar tissue of our self-appointed privilege.
May we all seek the answers beneath our truths, offer light to those left in the dark and wield kindness like a sword upon those we disagree. May we also wake each day with gratitude when we find freedom still outside our front doors, and spread love along this ever winding road.