POWELL, Wyo. — What happened to the barracks at Wyoming’s Heart Mountain concentration camp after World War II is the subject of a new book, “Moving Walls: The Barracks of America’s Concentration Camps.”
Written by writer/filmmaker Sharon Yamato and featuring photographs by award-winning photographer Stan Honda, this updated edition was recently launched at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center to a capacity crowd of local Wyomingites.
The book chronicles the history of these shoddily constructed buildings as they went from the concentration camp to the Wyoming homestead after being sold for a dollar apiece. Because the buildings at this particular camp were widely distributed after the war, they can be seen today throughout the Park County area where the camp once stood.
One of the barracks that survived is now permanently exhibited at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, and represents one of its most important visual artifacts from the confinement period. “Moving Walls” tells the story of how volunteers dismantled the barracks as part of the preservation project that took place more than 20 years ago. Visitors to the museum are able to see the limited size and substandard conditions in which Japanese American families were forced to live during the war.
Additional chapters focus on interviews with the homesteaders who continue to occupy and/or use the buildings today. The buildings have been repurposed into homes, garages and storage sheds, as well as apartment buildings, community centers, churches, and many other buildings.
Yamato cites the importance of the barracks as permanent reminders of the impact of the mass incarceration not only for those who lived in them during the war, but also for the local population that transformed the buildings into livable structures necessary for their survival.
As she states, “Hopefully, the book will shed light on the story of the incarceration as well as what followed — a transformation that I consider turning an American nightmare into the American dream.”
Honda, a New York-based photographer who is also well known for night sky photography and a career as a photojournalist, is committed to furthering the camp story as a result of his own family’s experience of being incarcerated at a camp in Poston, Ariz.
Yamato and Honda both have families who were sent to Poston from Los Angeles and San Diego, respectively. Both families eventually returned to California after the war, with Yamato raised in Pasadena and Honda in San Diego.
The book launch was accompanied by an exhibition of photos featured in “Moving Walls” at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center until the end of the year. The exhibition is also being made available to other institutions at the close of its run in Wyoming.
This event was the first in a series of presentations on the subject of the barracks, including a screening of Yamato’s film based on the book to be held at the Japanese American National Museum on Dec. 9. Honda will also appear at the screening.
Funded by the Department of Interior, National Park Service through the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program for the year 2014-2015, it was published under the fiscal sponsorship of Visual Communications, Inc.
For more information on this project, contact Yamato at [email protected] For questions regarding the JACS grant program, contact Kara Miyagishima, program manager, at (303) 969-2885.