Natasha Varner

Natasha Varner, PhD, is a historian and writer with bylines at Public Radio International, Jacobin, and Radical History Review’s online publication, The Abusable Past. Her book, La Raza Cosmética: Beauty, Identity, and Settler Colonialism in Postrevolutionary Mexico (University of Arizona Press, 2020), was a finalist for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association's Best First Book Award in 2021. In her work as Densho’s Communications and Public Engagement Director, she organizes community conversations, learning, and actions that connect histories of Japanese American WWII incarceration to contemporary instances of racism and xenophobia.

Updated January 2022

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Manzanar Children’s Village: Japanese American Orphans in a WWII Concentration Camp - Part 2

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Kinship Ties Forged and Broken

Back at Manzanar, Kenji and his siblings eventually learned that his father was imprisoned in the same concentration camp as them. Although the family was not immediately allowed to live together again, they were permitted to visit one another. His mother, who had been exposed to shock therapy during her stay at the sanatorium, eventually joined the family as well.

But Kenji says the family was broken due to the long separation during a critical period of the children’s development. When they could finally live together again, he says they didn’t …

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Manzanar Children’s Village: Japanese American Orphans in a WWII Concentration Camp - Part 1

Kenji Suematsu was living with his parents and siblings in Costa Mesa, California at the outbreak of World War II. His father, an immigrant farmer from Japan, was apprehended by the FBI shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His mother, suddenly alone with her three children and an uncertain future, suffered a nervous breakdown.

In a panic to get out of Costa Mesa, Kenji’s mother instructed him to drive the family car. He was six years old at the time, and had no idea what he was doing. Decades later, he recalled in an interview with Densho:

“She …

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Sites of Shame Traces the Paths of Japanese Americans Forced into Camps During WWII

Joe Yasutake was only nine years old when his father was apprehended by the FBI and interned as an enemy alien. In a matter of hours following the attack on Pearl Harbor, his peaceful Seattle childhood was replaced with family separation, forced removal, and life inside a series of detention facilities and concentration camps.

Years later, he recalled this time in his life during an oral history interview with Densho

“Each movement seemed to kind of last over an academic year….the fourth grade ended in about February or whenever it was that we, we were hauled off to Puyallup, …

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Japanese Americans Incarcerated During WWII Could Still Vote, Kind Of

During World War II,120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were stripped of their rights and property under the guise of national security. They were packed into trains and busses and moved from their West Coast homes to temporary holding stations at fairgrounds and racing tracks, and then on to permanent camps in remote parts of Idaho, California, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, and Arkansas. Though several cases challenging the legality of this imprisonment made it all the way to the Supreme Court, only a single ruling favored the Japanese American petitioners.

It might come as a surprise, then, that one key …

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