Barbed wire and a watchtower at the Minodoka War Relocation Center.
Courtesy Oregon Nikkei Endowment, Portland, Oregon / Johnson & Son, Boise, Idaho. Nov. 10, 1942
The Japanese adults incarcerated at a “war relocation center” near Twin Falls did their best to divert the camp’s children with talent shows and baseball games. But the reality was far starker than they would realize. Because of a line drawn on a map, and a world war overseas they had no control over, or involvement in, 9,000 Japanese-Americans were taken from their West Coast homes by the U.S. military and held in tarpaper barracks in a dusty span of Idaho from 1942 to 1945.
When the Supreme Court ruled in 1945 that U.S. citizens could no longer be confined in that way and ordered the people released, the Minidoka War Relocation Center became the state’s largest ghost town.
Teresa Tamura is a photographer from Nampa, the child of second-generation Japanese-Americans, born and raised in Caldwell. She was living in Hailey, teaching and working as a photo editor for an online environmental news service when she saw an article in 2001 about the site northeast of Twin Falls being designated as a National Park Service unit.
And so began the exploration that resulted in her book, “Minidoka: An American Concentration Camp,” which she will discuss in detail at the Community Library in Ketchum, Saturday, May 24, at 4 p.m.
Since the book’s release last fall, Tamura has made presentations in Seattle, Portland, Boise, Pocatello, Moscow and Ontario. The response to the less-than-savory slice of history has been positive and has revealed even more about the history, she said.
“A variety of people have shown up at public presentations. Many Idahoans who grew up near the Minidoka War Relocation Center want to share their own narratives and talked me to afterwards,” she said. “I have been surprised, in a good way, by the amount of interest and continue to learn new aspects of this history.”
The majority of people who were interned in Minidoka came from the Seattle area.
“When the book was released, a ‘celebration’ was held at the downtown Seattle Public Library to honor that community,” she said. “Celebration was in quotes because the topic is not something to celebrate. However, the fact that the book was published and available to the public was cause for celebration.”
The story of the forced removal and confinement of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans has been told in various ways, Tamura said, in many books, films, and articles, starting with the publication in 1944 of Ansel Adam’s photographs of the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California. Another example is a book by Allan R. Bosworth, a journalist who served in Navy Intelligence, who wrote “America’s Concentration Camps,” published in 1967.
Tamura’s book is unique because it captures the then and now, the people, and their personal histories. After a portion of the historic Minidoka site became part of the National Park Service in 2001, Tamura said, “I started to work on the book because it is an important subject with few sources available specifically about this ‘camp.’
“What started as a book about a place evolved into vignettes about the people connected to Minidoka and the artifacts that remain. It brings the story into the present by talking about these people now. I am grateful that people were willing to put their trust in me. As a result, I have developed many close relationships. And, a book of this nature would not be possible without the help, support and cooperation from many individuals.”
Tamura’s presentation will tie in with the Memorial Day holiday.
“I will read from the book, show photographs and a video to complement the book made by Art Wright, my photo professor at Idaho State University, and highlight some of the contributions of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This U.S. Army division was almost entirely of Japanese-American men who served in what became the most decorated unit based on its size and length of service.”
Meet the author
Who: Photographer Teresa Tamura.
When: Saturday, May 24, at 4 p.m.
Where: The Community Library, Ketchum.