BORDERLANDS LETTER: Racism and internment camps, then and now
by Tracy Hughes
[Note: CPTer Tracy Hughes works for BorderLinks, a bi-national nonprofit that hosts experiential education delegations focused on global economcs and global borders as these currently relate to the U.S.A. and Mexico borders. For information on CPTâ€™s past Borderlands work, see http://www.cpt.org/work/borderlands.]
I went to Phoenix today to join hundreds of other concerned citizens protesting the signing of SB1070, the unjust and racist immigration legislation by Gov. Brewer. It is hard to believe the Arizona legislature chose this path. I held a sign [displaying] "I WILL NOT COMPLY.â€ť This states clearly that I will not comply [with] the call to turn in my neighbor or any other person I might know who I think might be undocumented. The impact of this legislation on the Hispanic community in southern AZ and all over AZ is enormous. Racial profiling is already a big problem here and now this legislation will heighten the tension and fear felt here in Tucson (especially after 800 [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents raided South Tucson a few weeks agoâ€”some wearing ski masks, all armed.)
To top this experience was stumbling upon the Gila River Japanese Internment Camps on the Gila River Indian Reservationâ€¦ We stopped for gas at this lonely gas station and argued over [whether] the building across the country road was a churchâ€¦ [W]e drove over there and read the plaques. It was Canal Camp, one of the two internment camps during WWII. After the protest was over, we drove back to look around. The gas station worker told us how to drive the four miles to the Butte Internment Camp. We drove and drove through orange and pecan orchardsâ€” way out in the desolate desertâ€”and there sat a monument on a hill.
Oh my gosh, it was really upsetting to know that over 13,000 Japanese Americans were held captive in the area. At its peak, over 8,000 people were incarcerated at Butte Camp. From the hilltop, you can see foundations of buildings, roads, and other rubble of destroyed buildings from the camp. We drove around a bit and you could see foundations, destroyed buildings, roads, sewers, and other cement and metal structures.
I learned about these camps years and years ago but never thought of them in a concrete way (I guess) until today. On another visit I am going to go to the museum to learn some more about the people in the camps, their lives under incarceration, and to learn about all of the prisoners who served in WWII while their families were incarcerated at the camps. Butte Camps was like a complete city inside of a prison camp. Back in the mid to late 1940s, the Gila River Japanese Internment Camp was the fourth largest city in Arizona!
I wonder how many migrants are incarcerated/live in the detentions centers/prisons throughout Arizona? If they were all counted, I wonder where the population of these centers/camps rates among the largest populations centers in Arizona? â€¦ Maybe the Japanese Internment Camps are not so much a part of the past but rather, now, come in the form of migrant detention centers?
Some thoughts to ponder.