In Minidoka, by contrast, the CAFO issue has brought together local people and former internees. “Local people will really suffer (if the CAFO is built). They have to live there,” said Emily Momohara, an art professor and board member of Friends of Minidoka. Her grandparents and great-grandparents were held at Minidoka during the war. “One farmer has started putting up American flags and helping us with our pilgrimages. He doesn’t want his kids drinking that water either,” she said.
When these American concentration camps were thrown together in the panicked first few months of U.S. involvement in World War II, their locations were chosen for their desolation and sometimes, harsh weather conditions. Prominent men from Japanese American religious, educational, and civic institutions were quickly rounded up and sent to Department of Justice high-security sites like frigid Bismarck, North Dakota, and scorching Crystal City, Texas. Families, including infants, the elderly, the sick, and orphans were scattered among the 10 remaining camps. After the war, cheaply erected barracks were sometimes sold to returning GIs for $1 each, and the land itself was given away in lotteries for returning veterans. Baby boomer families began building lives–and farms–where Japanese and Japanese-American families were imprisoned just a few years earlier. Some moved onto land that had been tilled and irrigated by Japanese incarcerees, forming a direct link between the camps and modern food production.
Every year there are Americans who become newly aware of the forced removal of Japanese Americans and seek to unearth information about this disturbing period of our history. Imagine if you were to study a map and make the dusty trek to Minidoka one day, perhaps with a small bundle of flowers to leave on the memorial obelisk outside the former gates of the camp. But as you pull up to the site, the overwhelming smell of animal waste fills the car, your lungs, your head. The sounds of animals compete with your thoughts as you try to make sense of this place, and craft something meaningful out of your trek to this remote locale.
If construction proceeds as planned, a CAFO at Minidoka would disrespect not only those who were imprisoned but also their descendants who deserve to know the truth about what happened to their family members. As a National Historic Site, Minidoka (like the Holocaust Museum on the National Mall) exists to teach future generations about the dangers of hysteria and hate, particularly in times of war. This is what all Americans stand to lose if construction of a 13,000-cow CAFO is allowed just one mile from Minidoka.
To donate to the Minidoka Committee Legal Fund, go here.