Behind the Wires: American Concentration Camps Then and Now at ALA Virtual Conference

Behind the Wires: American Concentration Camps Then and Now was a program offered by APALA, the Asian/Pacific American Library Association.

The first speaker was Dr. Satsuki Ina, a survivor of the World War II concentration camps in America.

She commented first that correcting descriptive language is important. The dictionary definition of a concentration camp is a place where large numbers of people are detained or confined under armed guard.

She told her own story, with pictures of her parents, who were sent to the camps as newlyweds. Her brother was born in one camp, and she was born in a maximum security prison for dissidents. Her father had protested his incarceration, which made him a dissident. Dissidents were targeted for deportation, beaten, and separated from their families.

Not until 1946 were they released with $25 and a train ticket.

Dr. Ina has made a documentary film and promotes Healing Circles for Change. Now she’s part of a group that protests the same thing happening to immigrants. The resonance rings clear.

There were no protests when they were removed. They use their own history as a platform. They want the people inside to know people outside care.

The group is called Tsuru for Solidarity, with the website They use the hashtag #StopRepeatingHistory.

The common denominator is systemic racism. Racism is deeply ingrained in our history and is causing intergenerational trauma. We need deep systemic change.

The next speaker, Oscar Baeza, is a librarian in El Paso. He showed pictures and told about the situation in the concentration camps for immigrants at our borders.

There is inhumane treatment. He showed pictures of holding centers where immigrants are crowded together tightly in a room and kept many days.

Human rights are violated. He showed a picture of a child in a cage, holding a bottle. A child in that situation is going to ask, Am I a criminal? Am I an animal? There are severe psychological effects.

Another picture showed people packed under a bridge in a cage and left there for weeks, with fumes from cars and regular traffic going by.

Some people were released in El Paso at 8 pm on Christmas Eve in the cold with no food and no direction and everything shutting down for the holiday. El Paso rose to the occasion, but it was part of the cruelty.

Then Elena Baeza spoke, another librarian in El Paso. She spoke about offering library services to the immigrants. They do big events twice a year for immigrant children and teens.

There are lots of parallel experiences with the Japanese in 1942. Their stories need to be heard.

She shared some stories: Some were kept in dark rooms by ICE, so they couldn’t tell if it was night or day. They were not allowed to shower. They received one small, very bad meal per day. They felt like prisoners.

She does storytimes for immigrants with arts and crafts. Allowing them to express themselves in art is very therapeutic. Allow immigrants to tell their stories without saying a word through stories, movies, and art.

With the questions at the end the three speakers gave some tips.

It’s important to center the stories and voices of the immigrants. Inquire from them how best to help.

After getting reparations, the Japanese survivors became quieter, as if they were no longer allowed to tell their stories. This is getting them to speak up.

We need to keep up the pressure, coming together. Racism has fractured minority groups from each other. Reach out to each other’s communities and work together.

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