Last month, I posted Remembering Executive Order 9066, commemorating the 75th anniversary of FDR signing this historic, unfortunate executive order. Given how often the term “executive order” is currently in the news, I wanted to do more than simply reflect on an injustice from the past. Today I am posting a new lesson/hyperdoc to the Time of Remembrance (TOR) website: In Response to Executive Order 9066.
The goal of this lesson is to introduce students (Grades 4-12) to the possible impacts of any executive order that targets a specific group of people. During the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, over 110,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them citizens of the United States, were evacuated from the West Coast and “relocated” to detention camps established by the U.S. Government. As captured in Ansel Adam’s iconic photos, many internees would spend the next three years behind barbed wire. Their stories of discrimination and forced removal provide a window into a time when our nation failed to uphold the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the U.S. Constitution — regardless of nationality, race, religion, or ethnicity.
As students delve into the lesson by watching the I’m American Too – Stories from Behind the Fences documentary and exploring the primary source interviews in the TOR WWII Archives, they will gain an understanding of how virtually overnight West Coast farming communities were forever changed, with very few internees returning to their former homes. The students are then tasked with capturing a “story from behind the fences” by drafting a letter in the voice of the internee to someone, real or imaginary, outside of the camp. Using Dwight Okita’s “In Response to Executive Order 9066” poem as a model, their final task is to transform their letters into letter poems.
The lesson is also a call to action. Students are warmly invited to take their letter poems beyond the walls of the classroom by submitting them to the TOR Student Gallery for publication to a national audience. If you work with students, I am pretty sure you will agree that when we support students in speaking out on issues of social justice, we are often providing a lens to view the impact of bystanders and the difference a single upstander can make.
During the month of March, many West Coast school districts and museums commemorate Japanese-American internment with activities and exhibits. And, of course, probably all school districts celebrate April as National Poetry Month. Whatever the occasion or lesson might be, if you are a teacher, I hope you will encourage your students to create letter poems in response to Executive Order 9066 and to publish them to an authentic audience, such as the Time of Remembrance Student Gallery.