World War II in Texas: Japanese internment

Girl Scouts at Japanese Doll Day celebration, in Crystal City, Texas, internment center, 1943-45

“Girl Scout drama presentation for Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival), on Japanese Girl’s Day, at the Crystal City, Texas, internment facility operated by the Justice Department, 1943-45.

Each of us has pockets of ignorance; some of the pockets are larger than others.

How did I miss that there were Japanese-American internees in Texas? If I stumbled across that fact before, it really didn’t register. Reviewing the website for the University of Texas – San Antonio’s Institute of Texas Cultures, I came across the Spring 2007 Newsletter, which is dedicated to the Crystal City internment facility.

Crystal City is unknown to many other Texans, too, I wager. Study of a list of the War Department “Relocation” camps shows nothing in Texas. Surprise! The U.S. Justice Department also operated camps of interned Americans of Japanese descent. The War Department rounded up Japanese Americans in west coast states and their neighbors; the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization Services, the old INS which was rolled into the Department of Homeland Security after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, arrested and detained Japanese-Americans from the rest of the United States. INS operated at least four such camps in Texas.

Crystal City was a camp for migrant workers before the Justice Department acquired it for internment; it differed from other INS camps because families were interned together there. Most of the other INS camps interned only people whose loyalties were suspect, without their families.

Texas students need to beef up their knowledge of the entire Japanese-American internment case, according to test results in the TAKS exit test over the past three years. Clearly, if I didn’t know about the internment in Texas, some teachers need to beef up their knowledge, too (and that might be one of the sources of the kids’ test troubles).

UTSA’s Institute for Texan Cultures (ITC) offers the newsletter, “The Riddle of Crystal City,” plus a lesson plan on photos from the Texas camps (this qualifies as a DBQ activity, I’ll bet), a bibliography pitched at students (give a copy to your school’s librarian), and a webliography to aid students doing research projects.

See also these previous posts (and especially OnlyCrook’s supplement of information on the Oregon post):

Here are the Social Studies TEKS that relate to the history of Japanese internment in Texas, as described by the UTSA lesson plan:

Social Studies TEKS applications of this activity:
Scope and Sequence:

The content of this activity contributes to the student’s understanding of a traditional point of reference—World War II—in Texas and American history, the responsibilities of citizens to preserve freedom, and the consequences of failing to honor diversity within unity.

Grade 4: Even though the Crystal City Camp was located in Texas and affected Texans as well as others, the photograph activity is most useful for strengthening the Social Studies Skills: 4. 23A, 4.23B, 4.23C, 4.24A, and 4.24B. Continuing discussion may encourage skills such as 4.22D and 4.22E.

Grade 5: Even though the camp experience is related to the United States during World War II, the photograph activity is most useful for strengthening the Social Studies Skills: 5.25A, 5.25B, 5.26A, 5.26B, 5.26C, 5.27A, and 5.27B. Continuing discussion may encourage skills such as 5.25D and 5.25E.

Grade 6: Use the photograph activity to strengthen Social Studies Skills: 6.21A, 6.21B, 6.22A, 6.22B, 6.22C, 6.23A, 6.23B, and 6.23C. Continuing discussion may encourage skills such as 6.21D and 6.21E.

Grade 7: Even though the Crystal City Camp was located in Texas and affected Texans as well as others (7.7D), the photograph activity is most useful for strengthening the Social Studies Skills: 7.21A, 7.21B, 7.21G, 7.22A, 7.23A, 7.23B. Continuing discussion may encourage skills such as 7.21D, 7.21E, and 7.21F.

Grade 8: Use the photograph activity to strengthen Social Studies Skills: 8.30A, 8.30B, 8.31A, 8.32A, and 8.32B. Continuing discussion may encourage skills such as 8.30D, 8.30E, 8.30F, and 8.30G.

15 Responses to World War II in Texas: Japanese internment

  1. Nick K says:

    If Germans were interned on a wide scale oh jeez they would have had to intern my entire hometown plus three of the neighboring towns.

    Though I somehow suspect the ethnic french town just two miles to the north would have been fine…


  2. fatima says:

    i like it it so truth or faith???????????


  3. […] did I miss that there were Japanese-American internees in Texas? If I stumbled across that fact before, it really didn’t register. Reviewing the […]


  4. Barry L. Bitker says:

    It has been a long time since I looked into this; however, I know that some families remained in the US. If my memory serves correctly, they had to fight deportation proceedings to remain here. Gardiner’s, _Pawns in a Triangle of Hate_ is a much more reliable source than my memory. He has also written a history of the Japanese in Latin America.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    What became of this group after the war?


  6. Barry L. Bitker says:

    I believe that the principle reason that so little is know about the WW II internment in Crystal City, Texas was that many of the internees were not Japanese-Americans. The US government rounded up a large number of Japanese in Peru and transported them to Crystal City for internment. A former co-worker of mine was one of the internees along with his entire family. His older brother died of disease on the journey from Peru because of the overcrowding and lack of medical care on the ships. Apparently, there were many disease related deaths on-board the ships.

    Some of the internees from Peru think that the plan may have been to use them in POW exchanges. I have not been able to verify this.

    For more information see C. Harvey Gardiner, _Pawns in a Triangle of Hate: The Peruvian Japanese and the United States.


  7. Ed Darrell says:

    “Internee” is listed as the second definition of “intern” in two dictionaries I’ve consulted. Interesting distinction.

    Physician interns are paid workers, as are most interns in Washington, D.C. The word refers to the confinement, not the pay.

    When I worked on the internment compensation issue, my recollection is that we called them “interns.”

    How to be most clear?


  8. Micah says:

    Fascinating, Ed. However, you’re misusing the word “intern” in your introductory sentence. It should read “How did I miss that there were Japanese-American INTERNEES in Texas? An intern is an unpaid worker. An internee is someone held against his or her will.


  9. Ed Darrell says:


    Jennifer, you may want to check out the site of the German-American Internee Coalition. I pass no judgment on the accuracy of the materials listed there.

    This may be an area of research we need to supplement. Thanks for asking the question.


  10. Ed Darrell says:


    There were proposals to intern Americans of German and Italian descent, but for various reasons of familiarity with Italians and Germans in America, they were generally dismissed.

    However, I have been contacted by a fellow who said his father was interned at a camp for Germans in the midwest. In the brief research I did, I confirmed that there were plans for such camps, that they were built, and they were used during World War II. I think, and I’m supposing here, that internees were people who were suspected more highly than most Italian- or German-Americans because of recency of immigration, previous political stands, or occupation.

    But notice in the caption to the aerial photo of the camp, there is a description of the “German section.” Germans were interned. Not as many, not as notoriously — but some were interned.

    There is a controversy about just how many German-Americans were interned, where, how long, and how hard. A group in the Society for German-American Studies (SGAS) claimed that 11,000 Germans were interned. Some researchers reported those claims as bogus, but other researchers supported the claims in part. Here is a polemic that argues there is a great injustice, being hidden. The topic has been of interest in Congress:

    On August 3, 2001, Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced S. 1356, The European Americans and Refugees Wartime Treatment Study Act in the US Senate, joined by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Joseph Lieberman. This bill would create a much-needed independent commission to review US government policies directed against European “enemy” ethnic groups during WWII in the US and Latin America.”

    Generally we have ascribed the unusually harsh treatment of Japanese-Americans to pure xenophobia, and that’s probably a good description. That xenophobia included Italians and Germans, though.

    I had a fellow in my Sunday school class with a German surname. In conversations about school discipline these days, he mentioned the number of fights he’d been in during his schooling. He said it was all self-defense. Kids were more than happy to beat up “the German kids.”

    There’s a lot of history that gets unrecorded, and then forgotten. If you check these sources out, or find others, will you let me know what you find, please?


  11. jennifer villegas says:

    P.S. I’m sorry, this was also a fascinating piece of information…thank you!


  12. jennifer villegas says:

    Such a tragic event in the U.S.’s 20th century history. My question was why were there no ‘relocation’ camps for AMERICANS of German and Italian descent. Also, why were there not ‘relocation’ camps for AMERICANS of Japanese descent in Hawaii?


  13. -anonymous- says:

    thank you. this has helped me with last minute research I needed for a project and to refresh my memory.


  14. Jake says:

    I thought you might be interested in a post I did that highlights a little-known detail about life in the internment camps.


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