Teaching the Japanese American Experience in American Concentration Camps
Keywords:American concentration camps, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Japanese Americans, Stanley Hayami, Toyo Miyatake
How should “hard history” be confronted to understand the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II? This article shares a way of teaching this topic that not only confronts directly the real experiences of Japanese Americans in concentration camps but also humanizes the story. Encouraging students to learn the history experientially, the author uses two different sets of historical primary sources, offering both an “outsider” and “insider” perspective. First, the author explains that he focuses on the biographies and objectives of different photographers who took photos at Manzanar, highlighting how this context helps illuminate students’ perceptions and understanding of these photographs, revealing a larger story about the experience of Japanese Americans. Second, he describes how he incorporates the diary of Stanley Hayami, a Japanese American teenager interned at Heart Mountain who used his diary to retain agency within an oppressive system. Through an analysis of the diary with students, the author demonstrates how this diary captures the complexity of the Japanese American experience in American concentration camps.
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