Doomed to repeat?

Lessons from Heart Mountain continue to resonate


Friday begins the seventh annual pilgrimage at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, a yearly gathering held to commemorate the 14,000 people of Japanese ancestry — many of whom were U.S. citizens — incarcerated at the site by the U.S. government after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hundreds of visitors, including former incarcerees and their families, politicians, historians and members of the public will descend on the Interpretive Center to remember, or perhaps explore for the first time, this dark chapter in our country’s history.

And the lessons are many.

For some, the pilgrimage is a cathartic experience, a way to come to terms with an event that forever shaped the lives of generations of Japanese-Americans that followed.

For others, it’s a fact-finding mission: A clear-eyed look back at a government’s knee-jerk reaction to a horrific event, the repercussions of which continue to be felt to this day.

With the current climate surrounding our nation’s immigration policies, many now believe that the lessons of Heart Mountain have been forgotten. This weekend is as good a time as any to start remembering. Saturday’s event at the Interpretive Center will feature a variety of speakers and activities, as well as musical acts and art and photo exhibits. While a visit to the pilgrimage may not change anyone’s mind on current events, perhaps what it can do is provide a little perspective, as well as stimulate conversation.

The Interpretive Center’s unofficial theme since it opened its doors in 2011 has been “Never Again.”

“What you are doing here is drawing that line in the sand to say that never again will there be something like what happened at Heart Mountain and other relocation camps,” said Norman Mineta, former U.S. Congressman and former U.S. Transportation Secretary — and a former internee at the camp — during the Center’s grand opening ceremony in 2011.

Our nation continually grapples with how to balance human rights with national security, particularly when it comes to people from other countries. With the pilgrimage arriving, we should listen to the stories of the former incarcerees still living, and to the families of those who aren’t. We can familiarize ourselves with a time not so long ago when 14,000 people were uprooted from their lives and sent to rural Wyoming, without a clue when, if ever, they could return. “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” is a tired adage, and one so overused, it’s lost its meaning. But don’t let the cliché cloud the message.

“That’s what our job is: To make sure that what happened in the past remains in the past,” Mineta told the crowd on that Saturday in 2011. “And that we are vigilant — not vigilantes — vigilant in the protection of our constitutional rights, to make sure that something like this never, ever, happens again.”