I’m American Too – Stories from Behind the Fences
During the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, close to 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them citizens of the United States, were evacuated from the West Coast and “relocated” to detention camps established by the U.S. Government. Because they looked like the enemy, many would spend the next three years behind barbed wire. Their stories of discrimination and forced removal provide a window into a time when our nation failed to uphold the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the U.S. Constitution – regardless of nationality, race or ethnicity.
Seventy years later, the incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry is still not widely understood by the American public as “one of the worst constitutional violations in this nation’s history” (National Japanese American Historical Society, p 2).
This documentary video, I’m American Too – Stories from Behind the Fences, sheds light on a darker chapter in our history, but, more importantly, serves as a call to action to ensure that prejudice and fear are not allowed to upset the delicate balance between the rights of citizens and the power of the state.
SECC and the EGUSD expend special thanks and heartfelt appreciation for the Time of Remembrance interviewees. Their first-hand accounts of relocation, resistance and resilience stand as testimony to the power of the human spirit — and as a reminder of how quickly “the thin veneer of tolerance can be ripped off.”
Here, in America? – Immigrants and “The Enemy” During WWII and Today. San Francisco. National Japanese American Historical Society. 2006
The interview clips in the documentary I’m American Too – A Story from behind the Fences (see link below) are short snippets from a much more complete collection of “living voices” archived in the Elk Grove Unified School District’s Time of Remembrance Oral Histories website. In limiting the documentary to 16 minutes, we provide students with a very brief overview of the “relocation” of thousands of citizens of Japanese heritage from the West Coast following President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066. What our documentary does not include are the many chapters in the internment/incarceration story beyond the initial impact of forced removal of Japanese-Americans from their homes and communities. A longer version of the documentary would include stories of resilience, of resistance, of resettlement, of redress and — most importantly — of why it is so important to understand and to stand up for our constitutional rights — and for the constitutional rights of all citizens.
The lesson is an invitation to students to help shed light on a historical event that is still not widely recognized as one of the worst constitutional violations in our nation’s history. Students will explore the internment experience through the first-hand accounts archived in the Time of Remembrance online collection. By stepping into the stories of selected internees (historical characters), they will demonstrate a sense of historical perspective and in the process, become experts on the internment experience and, hopefully, advocates for tolerance and social justice.
• Students collect and evaluate information about the Japanese internment from Internet based oral histories. (CCSS Key Ideas and Details; Integration of Knowledge and Ideas)
• Students draw on primary sources to create a presentation reflective of the Japanese internment experience. (CCSS Key Ideas and Details; Integration of Knowledge and Ideas)
• Students evaluate, analyze and reflect on the constitutional issues involved in the internment of Japanese Americans and make connections to current events. (CCSS Craft and Structure; Comprehension and Collaboration; Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas)
> Time of Remembrance Oral Histories website
from the Elk Grove Unified School District
> A More Perfect Union from The Smithsonian
> Life In a Japanese Internment Camp from The Smithsonian
> JARDA (Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives)
from the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley
> Generations of Japanese-Americans Scarred by WWII Internments
from The Sacramento Bee
> Densho: Japanese American Legacy Project
Non-profit organization with primary source materials on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans
A Time of Fear: The Japanese Internment
Documentary 4-6 | Foulks Ranch Elementary School Video Production Club,
Elk Grove Unified School District
Producer: Kexin Ardisson | Teacher: Jim Bentley
The program idea was created when the teacher told his students about a friend who had been in the Japanese internment camps.
The Japanese Internment
Documentary 9-12 | Franklin High School, Elk Grove Unified School District
Producers: Trevor Morisawa and Matthew Mesfin | Teacher: Brad Clark
The program idea evolved from the fact that members of both sides of Trevor
Morisawa's family were imprisoned in the Tule Lake internment camp during World War II. His great-grandmother, Yoshiko Morisawa, was interned while she was just beginning high school, an interesting parallel to the current age of the producers in the class. The program intends to teach the audience about the folly of the blind discrimination that plagued America during World War II. The war-fueled hysteria resulted in the unfair denial of basic human rights to the many people of Japanese descent living in the country, a terrible crime that should never be committed again.
by Yoshito Wayne Oaski
One day my father brought home a puppy and I named him “Teny.” He was like a fuzzy ball, with light tan fur on his back and short white fur underneath. He was my constant companion. When I came home from school, he was always there waiting for me, wagging his tail and jumping all over me. When I played harmonica, he sat by me and accompanied me with his off-key howl. He was always with me when I went fishing, hunting, or just for a walk. He was just a mutt, but to me he was the cutest dog in the whole wide world. He was my best friend.
When the Evacuation Order came in late May of 1942, we were told no pets were allowed in camp. Who would take care of my Teny after we were gone? Who would feed him? Who would be willing to take care of a “Jap” dog? We had no choice but to leave him behind.
A few days before we were to leave for camp, he looked so sad all day long. He would not even eat his favorite food: rice and meat with gravy. Somehow he knew that he would be left behind.
The day before our departure, he disappeared. I searched every-where, calling his name, but I could not find him.
Finally the day came and we loaded our duffel bags and suitcases into the back of the truck.
I climbed on top of the baggage to look for Teny, still hoping to see him for the last time. As the truck started to speed up, Teny suddenly leaped out of nowhere and chased us. After about a mile, he became tired and started to fall behind. Finally he stopped and sat down in the middle of the road, panting heavily. Tears filled my eyes and I could no longer see my Teny.
From Our Side of the Fence – Growing Up in America’s Concentration Camps, edited by Brian Komai Dempster and published by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. Permission to copy and distribute this single story for educational purposes and to accompany the I’m American Too lesson and documentary was granted by the publisher.
In the Classroom
Ask students to think about a time they lost something they cared about. The loss could be something that happened recently or in the past, but whatever they have lost, it is something they are likely to remember for a long time to come. Have them jot down their thoughts and then turn to the person next to them to share whatever they written about.
Read aloud Yoshito Wayne Osaki’s My Dog Teny. Ask students to think about what were some of the losses the author experienced beyond the painful loss of his dog.
Taking Citizenship Beyond
When students have completed their reflective essays, ask them to highlight their favorite sentences or phrases. Using a voice recording program, such as Audacity, VoiceThread or PhotoStory, invite students to create a shared online essay by adding what they’ve selected from their essays.
NPR’s This I Believe has wonderful samples to illustrate the power of the human voice. The program is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name and features Americans from all walks of life sharing the personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives.
You might want to have students use the This I Believe format for their audiocasts to create a product such as this one created by high school students in Michigan.