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There have been two major phases in this country, we are just now entering the third.


The first phase began out of combined xenophobic and protectionist roots.  Basically, the western laborers were in a hard pinch because the labor boom associated with the gold rush was on the decline and there was a perception that the Chinese laborers were the beneficiary of this reduced labor prices; nay, they must have caused the labor priced deflations.  One of the first legislative pieces supporting this dogma was the Miners’ Tax License Law of 1850, supported by Californian and Washington state laws passed later.


The end result of this period is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.


The major internment camp documenting this era that has been semi-preserved is Angel Island, in the San Francisco Bay of California.  The California State Parks and Recreation Departments conducts tours and displays educational exhibits of the period.  A tour of the dilapidated upstairs of one of the internment buildings is a must see – 150 year old Chinese poems etched into the tack walls still provide a haunting visage of the storied period.


Students of western US mining history must realize and acknowledge this dark chapter.





The second major period of US internment camps began during the buildup to WWI and culminated with policy formulation and logistical execution during WWII.  Based upon nationalistic and xenophobic political protection measures which later morphed into both the more predictable economic espionage tactics and a further sinister anthem; this period birthed the current political correctness ideology.


A series of presidential Executive Orders provided for the detainment of enemy aliens, sympathizers and subversives. The FBI was given promulgation of these orders.  Eventfully, one of the primary determinants was that an individual was classified no longer as a US citizen, but as a Japanese-American or an Italian-American.  This use of the hyphen to distinguish a less equal personage served as a root of the current political correct use of the hyphen terminology today and introduced the concept of ‘otherness’ as a basis for state action against an ethnic class of naturalized US citizens.


Look up the December 6, 1939 directive to Chicago Bureau Special Agent in Charge from J. Edgar Hoover.  Look up subsequent directives dated between June 15 and October 18th 1941.


Read: The Internment of German Americans, German Americans in the World Wars; K. G. Saure, 1995.

Read: The Alien Registration Act of 1940


The architecture and infrastructure had been already developed for internment of US citizens by mid-1940, all that was left was a reason. This reason was gifted by the black flag attack at Honolulu.  Thankfully, the Japanese high command had been successfully influenced to attack HI instead of the San Francisco bay, despite repeated and successful penetration of SF Bay coastal defenses (submarine nets etc.) by Japanese reconnaissance submarines and a very well established and productive surveillance network.


Two of my favorite places to learn more about this history are visits to Manzanar, CA and Bainbridge Island, WA.

Manzanar is located in beautiful Owens Valleys with a backdrop of the photogenic Sierra Nevada scarp.  Currently operated by the National Park Service, tours are conducted during spring to fall and a self-guided car tour is also worth the time.


Bainbridge Island is the setting for the wonderful book Snow Falling on Cedars.  The local population developed a very good interpretive museum built out of their own accord, with their own labor and dollars, using artifacts from their own barns and back brooms of memories.  One of the best period exhibits in the country, period. Worth a visit.


Merced Fairground Internment Camp

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the federal government leased the fairgrounds and facilities and the Army built 200 barrack buildings.  These barracks then were used as a  "Japanese Reception Center".   Yep, those poor souls who weren't given a room with a view at Manzanar, across the Sierra Nevada, were crammed - more than 5,000 Japanese in total - into these barracks.  These internees had been told to report for relocation. The government took their land and possessions and warehoused them at Merced Fairgrounds until  August 1942.  Those who survived were moved by train to another internment camp in Colorado.

In later 1942 the Army developed an even better real estate plan for the Merced Fairgrounds - Chemical Warfare Unit.  Meanwhile, the post served as housing for yet another 5,000 black soldiers.  Not sure if they occupied the glorious housing next to the internment camp or the chemical warfare center. What lucky bastards!

Fresno Fairground Internment Camp

Here is a picture of the Japanese Living Situation:

This 5x7 photo was taken and produced by Jensen's Photo Studio, 2046 Grant Street, Selma California. 

The US internment story is typically spun as the US vs. the Japs.


Unfortunately, though the original cause of internment was economic displacement which found an easy home in the uneducated and out of work Joe-one-bottle laborer vitriol directed against the ethnicity of recent immigrants, the concept mutated into economic arbitrage and political correctness divisions. 


Ultimately, the internment camps are designed not for those with a colour of skin disfavored by those in power, but for those with colour of thoughts disfavored by those in power.  Look around you today.



2001- ???


You figure this one out…


One other key place to visit in order to understand California history is what the Chinese called GOLD ISLAND.  We now call it Angel Island.  Though looking only and absolutely beautiful in the heart of San Francisco Bay, this island served as quarantine/internment camp supporting the Chinese Exclusion Act and holds secrets dark and deep. This period of history, though brief, is Essential to the story of western gold mining camps.  Do yourself a favor, and visit the upstairs floor of the old ‘hospital’ that held some of the more despondent ‘guests’ (some of whom waited two years for the paperwork to clear, if they were so lucky).  They etched their poems of sorrow into the walls.


Thought the plaster peels and the building is falling down, some of these poems are still there…

Well worth the trip…

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