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Consumption in World War II Japanese American Incarceration Camps

  • Laura Ng
  • Stacey Lynn Camp
Chapter
Part of the Contributions To Global Historical Archaeology book series (CGHA)

Abstract

Racism emerged with the rise of capitalism to justify the exploitation of immigrants who were needed as laborers for Western global expansion. In the late nineteenth century, immigrants from Asia were often utilized as cheap labor in the Western United States and were subjected to anti-Asian rhetoric and discriminatory legislation. In the twentieth century, anti-Japanese racism culminated in the U.S. government’s decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans en masse after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Japanese Americans were conflated with those who carried out the attack and branded as the enemyse, but they had long been treated as inferior and scapegoated as the source of the economic problems of the white working class. This chapter aims to counter these sentialized identities produced by capitalism by examining the role of consumption and material culture in the context of the World War II confinement of Japanese Americans. We look at two different incarceration camps as case studies: Manzanar Relocation Center in eastern California and the Kooskia Internment Camp in north-central Idaho. Manzanar was one of 10 large concentration camps that held Japanese American families forcibly removed from their West Coast homes; the overwhelming majority of the incarcerated population had American citizenship. Kooskia was a small all-male confinement site and labor camp that held Japanese immigrants who had mostly been community leaders targeted for immediate detention after the start of the war. Through archaeological analysis, we demonstrate how incarcerees at Manzanar and Kooskia modified the camp environment under racism and institutional confinement through an examination of landscapes, material culture, oral historical evidence, the visual record, historical documents, and government records. As a result, our work intervenes in the essentializing process of capitalism by examining the everyday strategies incarcerees employed in adapting spaces in which they were confined for their own use.

Keywords

Japanese Americans World War II Incarceration camps Consumerism Race and ethnicity Institutional confinement archaeology 

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent ScholarBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology & AnthropologyUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA

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