Writer Whose Ancestor Opened First Japanese American Camp: Ocasio-Cortez Is Right

Mary Catherine Ford's ancestor Clayton Triggs opened the Manzanar War Relocation Center. She agrees detained migrants are in "concentration camps."
Manzanar was absolutely a concentration camp, says a descendant of the man who helped open it during World War II.
Manzanar was absolutely a concentration camp, says a descendant of the man who helped open it during World War II.

A writer whose great-great uncle served as director of a Japanese American concentration camp during World War II just wrote a column in support of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).  

While the freshman representative’s description of the U.S. detention centers at the southern border as “concentration camps” drew criticism from conservatives, Mary Catherine Ford, whose ancestor Clayton Triggs helped open the Manzanar War Relocation Center, said Ocasio-Cortez is “right to call out what’s happening in our southern border camps.” 

“I would know — because someone in my family opened the first Japanese American concentration camp in the United States,” she wrote.  

In her piece, Ford brought up the Trump administration lawyer, Sarah Fabian, who made headlines last week for arguing in court that basic toiletries wouldn’t fall under the law requiring “safe and sanitary” conditions for children in detention facilities. The writer noted that Fabian’s argument draws a parallel to “a speech my relative, Clayton Triggs, gave to Japanese Americans.” 

“He promised them the camp would afford them a ‘great latitude of freedom and self-governance,’ as if his words could erase their incarceration behind barbed wire,” she said. 

Ford further explained that Triggs had built the “Children’s Village” at Manzanar, the most closely guarded Japanese American incarceration camp. He had also requested permission to erect the concentration camp’s barbed wire and eight guard towers “from which soldiers would sit and point searchlights and live munitions down at these children.”

Upon hearing the news that the Trump administration planned to detain undocumented immigrant children apprehended at the border at Fort Sill, site of a former Japanese American concentration camp, Ford realized that “the past has returned.” 

″‘Safe and sanitary’ and ‘Children’s Village,’ ‘summer camp’ and ‘freedom’: then and now, the government uses language to hide and distort the truth,” she wrote. “Like a family that hides its shame, too many Americans accept the administration’s distortions rather than face that truth.” 

Ford wrote that the definition and function of concentration camps have remained consistent throughout history ― they detain “civilians because of who they are, not what they have done.” 

“This was true in 1942 when my family member opened the first concentration camp for Japanese Americans and it is true in 2019 as Trump continues his ‘zero tolerance’ policy of separating brown children from their loved ones and locking them in cages,” she wrote. 

She concluded with a sentiment inspired by author Viet Thanh Nguyen, urging people to “fight Trump’s tale of an invasion, of ‘animals’ on our southern border by telling a more powerful story.”

Nina Wallace, a communications coordinator for Densho, an organization that works to preserve Japanese American history, previously told HuffPost that Manzanar was “absolutely” a U.S. concentration camp. 

“A concentration camp is a place where civilians are confined for military or political purposes based on their identity,” she explained. “These were compounds of barracks surrounded by barbed wire fences and patrolled by armed guards, which Japanese Americans could not leave without permission.”

Wallace told HuffPost that by failing to describe these detention facilities as concentration camps, the Trump administration is continuing to use euphemisms as a “deliberate tool to obscure harsh realities and prevent us from recognizing historical patterns.”

Read Mary Catherine Ford’s full article here