A role-playing and discussion exercise on the Japanese American Internment in the 1940s.
This lesson is divided into four parts. Prior to each section, do not give an explanation of why or what students are doing. If students are curious, tell them they will find out later. Choose a few questions from the list in each section, or assign certain questions to different sections of the class.
Part I: Writing Exercise
Students will write a list of things we often take for granted--things which the Japanese Americans were deprived of during internment. Give students a few minutes to answer each question.
Part II: Discussion
Ask students to respond to situations similar to what Japanese Americans faced.
Imagine you were going away--you don't know where, how long, or under what conditions. Out of the list you have made take anything you want and need, as long as you can carry them.
Imagine that you will not be able to see any of those special people again?
You cannot take your pet with you where you are going.
In your new "home," you smell horses and manure. You notice a barbed wire fence surrounds the buildings you and other people like you live in. And you see that you cannot get out.
Your new "home" is one room, where all of your family must live. There are only some cots to sleep on, nothing else.
In your new "home," you cannot do any of the things you do regularly.
Imagine getting up in the morning. You have to go to the bathroom, but you have to walk about a half a block to get there.
It's breakfast time, served exactly at 7 AM. If you miss breakfast, you must wait until noon for food. (You have no refrigerator, nor is there a store nearby.) You must walk outside of your "house" again to the Mess Hall to eat. You have to wait in line, along with about half of the hundred people who live in your block of buildings. You have to eat what is served in the Mess Hall. This morning, it is the usual powdered eggs and powdered milk, or oatmeal mush.
Part III: Simulation Students will imagine returning to the original neighborhood from which they were forced to move. They experience hostility or sympathy and friendship.
Situation: Three years after their internment, Japanese Americans were allowed to return to the West Coast, where they often faced signs that told them to "go back where they came from" or graffiti telling them they were not welcome. Someone else often occupied their former house and was reluctant to leave. But many times, kind and generous people offered their homes or helped them to find one and to find jobs.
Procedure: Two volunteers will enact the following drama. The first student is occupying the second student's desk, while the second student had stood in the hallway on the teacher's orders. He/she has returned.
Student #1: I have come back. This is my seat. Please give it back to me.Ask the students the following questions:
Student #2: No, this is my seat now. If you liked it so much, why did you leave?
Student #1: I had to. The teacher told me to.
Student #2: What for?
Student #1: I don't know.
Student #2: Didn't you ask?
Student #1: No. I just did what she told me to do. So please give it back to me.
Student #2: Well, I'll have to think about it.
Part IV: Reading and Discussion
The readings are excerpts from Japanese American Journey edited by Florence Hongo (teachers can obtain copy of this book in their local library or order a copy from JACP at 800-874-2242). For elementary level students, teachers should read aloud in class the excerpts noted. For intermediate level students, teachers may assign the reading either to be read in class or for homework.
Reading: Read pp. 3-11 (beginning with the section "The Calm is Broken" to the section "Again to Move" in the Japanese American Journey. Also read "The Return," pp. 53-55.
Students will now likely identify with the fact that Japanese Americans were stripped of their homes, possessions, friends and sometimes, families. They didn't know they where they were going, or how long they would stay. They had to adopt to a new routine and a new, restricted way of life. When they returned "home," three years later, they were often met with acts of dicrimination and violence. But some people who understood what they had gone through, treated them with kindness and sympathy.
Show photographs of the Japanese American internment experience. Encourage students to ask questions and discuss the event.
Conclude the discussion by telling the students that, after close to fifty years, the U.S. government decided they had made a terrible mistake in putting Japanese Americans into camps. Each of the survivors was sent an apology and a check beginning in 1990. (Only half of the original camp population are now living, the majority are in their late 60's and 70's.)
Additional questions for discussion
Students studying the U.S. Constitution can discuss the Bill of Rights in the context of Japanese American internment. While keeping in mind that virtually all internees were American citizens, students should determine which of their constitutional rights were violated during the internment. Follow with class discussion.
Middle School Extension
Ask students to write a paper or prepare a presentation on the suspencion of habeas corpus, including the analysis of at least two case studies. What has history taught us?
Special thanks to the Sonoma County's Japanese American Citizen's League Curriculum Guide, The Japanese American Wartime Experience 1941-1945
Author: Angela Che.