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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Professor Franklin Odo gives lecture on the legacy and the Japanese American Experience of Internment Camps

Jong Man Kim/Collegian
(Jong Man Kim/Collegian)

A lecture about Japanese Americans’ experiences in internment camps during World War II by Professor Franklin Odo was attended by hundreds of students, faculty and members of the community Tuesday evening in Herter Hall.

Franklin Odo, a pioneer in Asian American studies, is the John J. McCloy Visiting Professor of American Institutions and International Diplomacy at Amherst College and was the founding director of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Program.

One of Odo’s key talking points was the idea that euphemisms are often used to describe events like the forced removal of Japanese Americans to try and make what actually happened sound less unpleasant or embarrassing.

“When the United States government decided it needed to justify what it was doing [between 1942-1945], it used the term ‘to evacuate’,” Odo said. “This was an evacuation. But for most of us evacuation means moving people from danger. Merriam-Webster dictionary says [evacuation is] ‘the process of temporarily moving people away from an immediate and real danger such as a fire, flood or bomb threat.’ This was clearly not the case.”

The lecture was titled “Concentration Camps, American Style: Japanese Americans and WWII.” Odo talked about the mixed reactions of using more blunt terms such as “concentration camps” to describe the camps in the U.S.

“I’ll talk a little bit about the terminology. I suspect that there are at least some of you who are not comfortable with the term ‘concentration camps’ that’s applied to the American institution. My wife certainly wasn’t; she happens to be Jewish. And her friends that are also Jewish, we had some heated discussions I should say. It’s kind of a miracle we’re still married,” Odo said.

It has been nearly 75 years since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942 that authorized the removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Reparations weren’t given to Japanese Americans interned during the war until the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Odo’s lecture covered the life and experiences of Japanese Americans before World War II, during the war when people were being forcefully moved and incarcerated and the lasting legacy of the camps. Chorryi Chin, an undeclared freshman, was at the lecture and took away the importance of hearing the different perspectives of history.

“Oftentimes in history there are stories that are lost,” Chin said. “We fail to really recognize the true horrors of what happened to a lot of people. We need to know those lost stories.”

The event was to initially be held in room 601 had to be moved to Herter Hall due the room not being able to sit the large amount of people that came to hear the lecture. As a result, the lecture was delayed about 15 minutes as everyone was shuttled to the larger room.

The event was presented as part of the 2016-17 Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series focused this year on The U.S. in the Age of Mass Incarceration.

Jack Kenney, a sophomore computer science major, felt Odo imparted the idea of learning from the past.

“The more history you know the better you can make decisions in the future; people repeat themselves all the time,” Kenney said.

Odo expressed the message that even though an event occurred in the past, the ramifications of how the event is handled linger on.

“We can at least say that like so many critical events in history, the impact and significance of those events are not past. The living legacies of history are very much still with us,” Odo said.

Dan Curtin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @dmcurtin96.

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    A.D. JacobsNov 3, 2016 at 9:03 am

    Unfortunately Professor Odo’s lecture did not tell the complete story of internment in the U.S. during WWII.
    He failed to tell his audience and readers that German Americans and Italian Americans were also interned during the war!

    Have we forgotten how to tell true stories?