Wednesday, January 5, 2011

National Park Service Commits Circa Four Million Dollars to Japanese-American Internment Sites

It is a tragic topic that I learned about from family and close family friends when I was a child, long before it had entered the school curriculum and public consciousness: the shameful World War II internment of Japanese-Americans.

It is also a historic preservation dilemma: first, because governments have traditionally been reluctant to commemorate the "dark" or "blank" spots in their history, and second, because the sites themselves pose technical-practical as well as historical-political challenges. Like the German concentration and extermination camps (and note: I am not extending the analogy further than this), the sites were constructed on an improvised basis with inferior materials. They were not intended to last. But in part because the injustices committed here did not occupy a comparable site on the moral plane or in the national and world historical conscience, these American sites of World War II shame have suffered far more from the depredations of time and amnesia. Some structures were destroyed, some were allowed to decay, some were carted off and reused for other purposes.

I taught about the challenges of maintaining and commemorating both kinds of sites in my historic preservation class this past semester.  It was therefore gratifying to learn of new funding to support their preservation and interpretation:
We usually think of the National Park Service as being in charge of campsites, not camp sites. As part of its mandate to preserve and protect sites of historical and cultural significance, the Park Service's Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program has awarded $3,895,000 in federal funds to private nonprofit organizations; educational institutions, and; state, local, and tribal governments to preserve and provide interpretation resources to the 10 relocation camps scattered in the West. (Read the rest)
Better late than never.

No comments: