Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Wyoming, the "Equality State"? by Mary Louise Sanchez

I was born and raised in the square shaped state of Wyoming, but that doesn't mean Wyoming is "square". In fact, there are instances where Wyomingites have been ahead of the times. You probably knew Wyoming was the first territory to give women the right to vote in 1869. Read all about this landmark event in Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge's picture book, When Esther Morris Headed West – Women, Wyoming and the Right to Vote.  
              Goodreads image

Wyoming women were in the forefront in 1870 when the first all woman jury was sworn in; and again in 1925 when Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman U.S. governor. Wyoming is known as the “Equality State” because of the rights women have traditionally enjoyed there.
Wyoming has had other firsts including the establishment of Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872. Shoshone National Forest was the first designated national forest in 1872, and Theodore Roosevelt named Devil's Tower as the first national monument in 1906.  But did you know Wyoming made civil rights news in the 1940s?

 Seventy years ago in the spring of 1944, a small group of Japanese Americans fought for their rights as U.S. citizens in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. This was Wyoming's only internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII. It was located in northern Wyoming near the town of Powell.

Sixty three young men resisted the draft at this Japanese American internment camp and then stood trial in the Federal District Court in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It remains the largest mass trial for draft resistance in U.S. history. Seven of the leaders were sentenced to prison at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for counseling other draft-age Nisei (U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry) to resist military induction.


 Frank Seishi Emi, twenty-two, a grocer from Los Angeles, interned at Heart Mountain, was obliged to fill out a loyalty questionnaire like the other adults there. He and other Nisei had problems with two questions on the form because Nisei were treated as citizens, in paper only, when it benefited the government. In 1942, the government declared American Japanese could not be drafted and then reversed its position in 1943, saying this was a way for Nisei to move toward regaining full citizenship. It's interesting how these men were expected to put their lives on the line so that their parents would have the right to live behind barbed wire.

 Mr. Emi and other Nisei joined together to create the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. They wanted the government to clarify their status as American citizens and regain their civil rights. As a result of not having their rights restored, sixty three Heart Mountain Nisei refused their pre-induction physicals. They were tried as a group in Wyoming's largest mass trial.

Out of 2,300 eligible men for the draft at Heart Mountain, only 38 volunteered. The organization of draft resistance made Heart Mountain stand out from other internment camps. However, in spite of the draft resistance, 700 men reported for their physicals and 385 of these men were inducted. Eleven men from the camp were killed and 52 were wounded in battle.

It's also interesting that the government formed a segregated unit of Nisei soldiers to fight for the United States and this 442nd unit became one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history.

There are many fine children's books which tell the stories of Americans of Japanese ancestry who lived in one of the ten internment camps in California, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Arkansas.  Most of these books tell about life behind barbed wire and of the humiliation of these American citizens, but few touch upon the idea of the brave Americans of Japanese descent who fought for their equal rights. We need to hear the stories of dissenters at Heart Mountain and Tule Lake, California, where "trouble makers" were interned.

One book I've reviewed recently on Goodreads, touches on a Japanese American "trouble maker" coming back to his family in an internment camp. The book is Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky.

  I also recently enjoyed Kirby Larson's, Dash. See my review on Goodreads.

These are some examples of older copyrighted children's books which address the Japanese American internment experience. Perhaps you know of others. Please share.

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