Friday, February 23, 2007

The Poston Memorial

Driving along Hwy. 95 near Poston, Arizona you will spy a tall column rising from the desert floor on the east side of the road. Blink and you'll miss it, but what you've just passed is a memorial dedicated to the 17,000+ Japanese Americans who were interned here during WWI, held as "enemy aliens".

Here in the small community of Poston which is part of the Colorado River Indian Tribes land, once stood a concentration camp for the Japanese people living in the United States who were ordered there by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. Their crime was simply to be of Japanese heritage at a time when the U.S. had declared war against the country of Japan, even though some of the people sent to live in these camps were second-generation Americans.

When the Native Americans discovered that the government intended to imprison the Japanese on Indian land, they were vehemently against it. The Native Americans knew all too well what it felt like to be held on a reservation and wanted no part of a relocation center on their land. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs overruled them and so the relocation camp was built here. There were actually three separate areas, Poston I, Poston II and Poston III. While the clearing of the land and barracks building was done by private contractors, the school buildings and gardens were built by the evacuees.

For the full story of the evacuation camps, click on the words Poston, AZ above for an excellent explanation of the basic construction on the National Parks Service website. Of course, what they don't go into is the horrible outrage of putting our citizens into a concentration camp during wartime.

Circling the monument are a series of plaques explaining a bit of the history of the evacuation camps, some of the poetry written by those detained within its fences, and a dedication, part of which reads: "This memorial is dedicated to all those men, women and children who suffered countless hardships and indignities at the hands of a nations misguided by wartime hysteria, racial prejudice and fear. May it serve as a constant reminder of our past so that Americans in the future will never again be denied their constitutional rights and may the rememberance of that experience serve to advance the evolution of the human spirit."

The tar papered barracks are long gone, decayed and torn down. The adobe school structures lasted longer but have been abandoned. Other buildings are being used for various purposes but if you walk beyond the tall column of the memorial itself you will see no indication of what happened here 60 years ago. Thousands of lives were interrupted, homes and businesses and jobs were lost, personal belongings gone forever and there is no sign of that at all. There needs to be a museum here, to remind people what our government did to its own citizens in the time of war. Over 1200 of the evacuees here in Poston volunteered for service in the armed forces and fought overseas in Italy, France and Germany, earing many honors for themselves and their regiments--men that had been given a status of enemy alien turned around and served honorably for their country.

I didn't know.

1 comment:

Coll said...

This detention and "relocation" also happened in Canada. I personally know Japanese Canadians who's families lost everything. We Canadians pride ourselves in our reputation as peace keepers. This part of our history has me hanging my head in shame.

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