Photos of Japanese American Children in Internment Camps, 1942-1945
Amid a growing anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which called for the evacuation of all persons of Japanese descent from the West Coast. Many individuals and families evacuated to assembly centers and eventually internment camps in ten inland locations across the country. Among the more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry interned, many of those were children, and most of these children were American citizens. The collection of War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement provides a unique view of how the WRA wanted the U.S. public to view Japanese American children and to perceive their internment experience. The images presented in this collection are not necessarily representative of the real experiences of Japanese American children, and the captions seldom mention internment in any way, leaving the audience with images and comments devoid of context. These photos reveal an idealized portrait of how the WRA wanted these children to appear “Americanized” and their daily lives to appear normal. The photos and captions document the perceived normalcy of everyday life in the relocation centers by depicting happy, smiling children at play, in school, during holidays, and in patriotic events.
The War Relocation Authority (WRA) administered the relocation of Japanese and Japanese Americans from Washington, Oregon, and California, and presided over the internment camps from 1942 to 1946. The WRA also commanded the publicity campaign regarding Japanese internment and did this through the medium of photography and the photographs’ accompanying captions. The WRA employed a number of photographers to document life in the internment camps, and many of the photos were meant for or presented in public exhibitions across the country. The collection contains more than 7000 photographs and 300 slides taken between 1942 and 1946. The seven main photographers included Dorothea Lange, Francis Stewart, Hikaru Iwasaki, Joe McClelland, Tom Parker, Charles E. Mace, and Gretchen Van Tassel. The collection features photographs of daily life in each internment camp, pre-evacuation and assembly centers in California, the relocation of evacuees in various states, and resettlement activities, primarily in California cities.
Because the WRA commissioned the photographs and wrote the accompanying captions, the bias of this collection must be taken into consideration. These photos reveal the unconscious biases of the individual photographers that are simply represented by the choice of subject matter in each photo or what a photographer decided to omit. Another level of bias that must be considered is that of the evacuees themselves. It is not known how many activities, if any, were staged for the camera but one can presume some...