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A Letter to My Community Urging Protection of Minidoka

Dear Japanese American Community,

If I don’t already know you, I hope to meet you someday — in the Seattle Chinatown-International District (CID) at a restaurant or shop, while I’m out on the street working on a mural or perhaps during an event at the Wing Luke Asian Museum. Maybe we’ll meet as pilgrims on the Minidoka Pilgrimage, which I have the immense privilege of organizing along with survivors, other descendants and allies.

At Minidoka, my family’s prison number was 11295. Our address was Block 42, Barrack 9-D.

My favorite time to be on that sacred land is at sunset. I imagine that the intense washes of desert light provided my great grandparents with consolation, despite their confusion as to why they were imprisoned. I imagine that the rushing music of the canal and the sounds of the birds delighted my auntie and uncle, both small children when incarcerated.

When I walk that dusty land with the wind whipping around me, I think about and honor my grandparents trudging the snowy three-plus miles from Block 42 to the hospital where my father was born imprisoned, delivered by a horse veterinarian in the absence of a doctor.

Our pilgrimage, like all the other Japanese American incarceration camp pilgrimages, formed so that our relatives could safely return to a painful place and begin the incremental healing process. Our pilgrimage, like all the others, exists as a way to lift up the extraordinary community care that occurred and to make our stories visible when such history has been erased within American memory and textbooks. Our pilgrimage, unlike some others, occurs on land that was designated a National Historic Site and is now stewarded by a conscientious team of people who care about us and our history there.

Yet, despite this designation and last year being named one of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a controversial proposal threatens the future of Minidoka. Right now, the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency, is considering options to allow LS Power (a New York private equity company) to build up to 400 wind turbines on the federal and private lands immediately surrounding the site. At approximately 740 feet in height—by comparison, Seattle’s Space Needle stands at 603 feet—the wind turbines would dominate 114 degrees of Minidoka’s 360-degree view-shed, forever desecrating what we—JA survivors and descendants of the incarceration—consider to be hallowed ground.

The project would forever damage Minidoka as a place to learn about the incarceration story. If you are like me, you are in favor of green energy, but NOT at the expense of our long fought-for dignity and sacred site.

Dear Japanese American Community, eighty-one years after Executive Order 9066, WE know that Minidoka still holds vital lessons to help the public understand that racial prejudice, hate, and violence directed against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community are not new. I am outraged that the Bureau of Land Management is trying mightily to dishonor what we have built. It has downplayed our significance by categorizing us as “tourists and recreationalists” in its report.

As a community, we have accomplished a lot of things together. I wish I didn’t have to make one more ask, but I do. I implore you to write your comments and spread the word about the April 20 deadline for doing so. Demand OPTION A: NO ACTION.

Go to www.minidokapilgrimage.org/call-to-action for a fact sheet and email the Minidoka Pil­gri­mage Planning Committee with any support you need. Thank you. I am truly proud to be a part of this community.

With gratitude,

Your sister, sibling, friend, colleague, and fellow community member,
Erin Shigaki

 

*This letter was originally published in The North American Post on March 10, 2023. 

 

© 2023 Erin Shigaki

Idaho letters Minidoka (city) United States World War II camps
About the Author

Erin Shigaki is a Yonsei Japanese American artist, activist, and story keeper, born and raised on the Coast Salish land of Seattle, Washington. She creates work that is community-based and focused on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) experiences and believes that telling these stories can educate, redress, and incrementally heal. Erin holds a B.A. from Yale University. (Profile photo courtesy of Bruce Tom)

Updated March 2023

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