EDITORIAL: Learning from Heart Mountain’s history

Posted 8/7/12

Seventy years ago, on Aug. 11, 1942, the first trainload of Japanese-American internees arrived at Heart Mountain, where they would live behind barbed wire while World War II raged.

One year ago, on Aug. 20, 2011, the Heart Mountain Interpretive …

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EDITORIAL: Learning from Heart Mountain’s history

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Weekend pilgrimage explores important questions, history

August marks two significant anniversaries in Park County.

Seventy years ago, on Aug. 11, 1942, the first trainload of Japanese-American internees arrived at Heart Mountain, where they would live behind barbed wire while World War II raged.

One year ago, on Aug. 20, 2011, the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center opened, preserving the internment camp’s important history and bitter lessons.

It is difficult to remember this chapter of American history. But it is necessary.

After all, a question still lingers 70 years later: Could this happen again?

We hope the answer is a resounding no.

That is the overarching lesson Heart Mountain teaches: Never again.

Never again should American citizens be detained because of their nationality, uprooted from their homes and forced to live under armed guards and behind barbed wire. Never again should someone be treated with suspicion or hatred because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes.

A hero of Heart Mountain embodies this lesson.

As a boy in the 1940s, Norman Mineta lived in a barrack at Heart Mountain, confined as an internee — a prisoner.

Mineta went on to become the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. On Sept. 11, 2001, he grounded all flights after terrorist attacks struck our nation at its core. In the fearful and frantic days that followed, Mineta discussed national security and getting the airlines up.

“There were a lot of people who were saying, ‘Don’t let Middle Easterners or Muslims back on the airplanes.’ And they were even talking about internment and rounding them up,” Mineta recalled last August.

Mineta then shared what President George W. Bush said of those rising concerns: “We don’t want to have happen today what happened to Norm in 1942.”

This is why lessons of Heart Mountain are worth preserving, why it’s worth asking, “Could this happen again?”

During the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center’s Pilgrimage Event this weekend, films and discussions will explore that question and Heart Mountain’s history.

The pilgrimage also coincides with a temporary exhibit at Heart Mountain that shows portraits of Muslim Americans. Some have criticized the center for hosting the exhibit, but we believe it’s important to recognize the impacts of racial profiling and prejudice that still exist in America today.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center stands as a reminder of the past, and a lesson for the future.

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