As most folks packed up their belongings and headed home after the Philanthropy Northwest annual conference, I boarded a bus with several other PNW members and staff and headed to Jerome, Idaho to visit the Minidoka National Historic Site and view what’s left of the former incarceration camp that held my family, along with 13,000 other people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
As you step onto the ashy soil of the high desert plain, it’s hard not to notice how little of the camp is left and the expansive scale that it once occupied. Originally 33,000 acres, the camp became the seventh largest city in Idaho at the time. I try to imagine what life would’ve been like behind these barbed wires and underneath the ever-present gaze from the guard tower. I think about how terrified my grandmother must have been, younger than I am now with two young children and pregnant with a third, having just lost everything and now forced to live in a shabby barrack with several other families and no idea about what will happen next. Everything unknown.
I grew up with stories of my family just trying to maintain as much a sense of community as possible, and I can feel that when walking along the baseball field or stepping into the fire stations at Minidoka. Scanning photos of the makeshift holiday celebrations and the community gardens, knowing how my family had to completely rebuild their lives after leaving the camps, the resiliency of the Japanese American community is not lost on me. I feel the strength of my relatives under the face of oppression in the core of my being and in my motivation for supporting communities of color in this work.
My grandmother was vocal about sharing her experience at Minidoka so that it would never happen again. As a yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American, I also know that the trauma of this experience lasts for generations. As I continue to grow within the field of philanthropy, I carry my family’s strength and experience with me and I move towards the ways that philanthropy can play an active role in fighting the oppression of communities of color by centering them in our work, following their lead, elevating their voices and supporting their work. Because “never again” is right now.
This article was originally published by Philanthropy Northwest.