gila-river.jpg

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Along with some scattered, rusting nails and construction debris, these cement pilings scattered across the Arizona desert are all that remains of the Gila River Relocation Center, one of ten camps built to house Japanese Americans imprisoned during the Second World War.

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This concentration camp was built on Indian reservation land, despite strong objections from the tribal government, and in 1944 housed over 13,000 prisoners in the dry desert south of Phoenix. Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, ordered that Japanese American citizens living on the west coast be rounded up, have their property confiscated, and spend the war years interned in primitive camps guarded by the military. Compared to some of the other camps, conditions at Gila River were tolerable for the prisoners who managed to overcome the isolation, boredom, heat, and scorpions.

I have family that live in Phoenix, and sometimes visit them on holidays. On two or three visits, I casually looked for this site, knowing it was on the Gila River Reservation, but never knowing exactly where. But it was difficult to find. There are no signs, and the desert and irrigated farmland seems to stretch on forever. Then one year I received decent directions, and realized how close it was to the Interstate exit. It always seems like that-I can drive by a place dozens, hundreds, of times in ignorance of what happened there, and then when I discover something, the place is never the same. My world has grown richer.

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