Crystal City…Could It Happen Again?

I am reading The Train to Crystal City, a book by Jan Jarboe Russell.  I have been amazed at this little discussed historical place in Crystal City, Texas. In no history class have I ever heard of how many U.S. naturalized citizens were herded up and sent off to this internment camp in the 1940s because they were originally from Japan, Germany, or Italy.

I have included copies of these U.S. Gov’t Relocation films released to explain the plan behind the internment camps. However, in reading more interviews, and reports in newspapers regarding the stories of families, there were many injustices by our government officials against American born children of detainees. 

The highlighted text above will take you to the original article from which I pasted the below films.


While one of the films shows aspects of the camp that reflect a spa-like quality, the vast majority of the detainees interviewed do not have happy memories of the camp life in Crystal City, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

In Russell’s book, the Germans in camp were more divided than the Japanese and had more internal conflicts because there was a Nazi faction in the camp and German Americans who were loyal to the U.S. This caused a great deal of problems for German American families within the camp. The Japanese were larger in number and had come from a country exampling more government organization. Therefore, they created a strong committee with officers who met with camp officials and bargained for  better treatment and housing for their people. The German detainees also had representatives, but more agitators created difficulty in finding compromises with camp administration.

According to Russell’s investigation into the camp, the families transferred to this camp to be reunited with their husbands had to sign an application for repatriation, which resulted in them giving the U.S. the right to trade them in prisoner exchange to the warring government for release of American prisoners of war. This volunteer act did not necessarily mean the families were guilty of treason against the United States, but it relinquished their freedoms in order to be reunited with fathers, and to be guaranteed to be given food and water, and very basic necessities. For some of these women and children, who had lost their homes and all their savings (frozen or taken by the government), they really had no choice but to take this action or starve. The fathers of these families had already been robbed of their freedoms, their right to answer to their charges, and most were never told what evidence against them caused their incarceration.

The writ of habeas corpus did not apply in any of these detainees cases because the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the Executive Order 9066, signed by FDR, made any immigrants from countries at war with the United States potentially dangerous and under suspicion. There were at least 10 camps holding over 125,000 detainees from 1942 to 1948. (This is an estimated number. Some of my research stated from 25,000 to as many as 250,000. The most common number in most reports, articles, and documents referred to the 100,000 number in relation to the Japanese and German detainees combined.) Many detainees were released at the end of the war as undocumented immigrants, but many more had been repatriated during the war to decrease numbers at the camps.   Some of the detainees were held much longer (according to government documents stating the camp continued and did not close until 1948), and I have not been able to determine who they were or why.

Sounds familiar to the current President’s attempt to ban specific cultural or religious groups of immigrants, doesn’t it? I do believe history is trying to repeat itself in our country today.  Thank God for some of the elected officials and citizens who are trying to uphold the freedoms that represent the best ideals of our country. I pray that this kind of sweeping denial of human rights and cultural separation does not occur on this scale again, but only time will tell.

I encourage anyone who has ancestors who are immigrants (umm, everyone) to read this book, read other books, investigate this piece of our history, and stay informed of the actions of our leaders against our citizens. What is your immigrant history? Would your family have been at risk in 1942 of internment? Think about it!

[Please note that I am not a historian, and some of these facts may be controversial or contradicted by other reports not viewed by this writer. This piece is intended only to spark an interest for those who have not considered their past familial immigrant status.]


Book Review: “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson

photo-66While some reviewers have mentioned that they do not like the dual storyline of this book, I have become quite fond of this structure. It is a difficult task to present two intriguing stories that run parallel in time and place while trying to be as true to fact as possible. Erik Larson presents a variable red carpet of rich and famous characters in passing who are forever touched by the white city of Chicago.

The Devil in the White City is based on a true story of the enormous undertaking of D. H. Burnham, the lead architect who is commissioned to plan the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. In the midst of this grand event, readers are introduced to the darker city surrounding the beauty of the white architecture.

The parallel story that is the dark to the white city is that of H. H. Holmes, a psychopath and con man using the draw of the exposition to find victims to excite his fascination with death. As Burnham creates architecture of grand design to lift the individual spirit of the viewer, Holmes creates architecture built to break and torture the spirit of his victims. The plethora of individuals and facts that wallpaper the telling of this story only add to the foothold in time and place for the reader.

Larson builds this story fact upon fact like bricks placed carefully in the road of Jackson Park. Readers of this work of creative non-fiction should be patient in the unfolding of the parallel stories in order to appreciate the later harder separations between the dark and the white city and the scars left on Chicago. An impatient reader with no appreciation for detail will not enjoy this book that examples many inventions, some used for good, some used for evil. Without aligning this age of discovery with invention, the creations built by Holmes to effectively dispose of his victims would not have been plausible to the reader.

Erik Larson proves his abilities as a patient storyteller who describes the visceral pleasure of architecture and cold calculated homicide with equal flair. The devil of this book is not necessarily the psychopath killer Holmes. The devil may well be the constant desire of man to create, to conquer, to prove himself more than  mere mortal.


Review of “Wild” the movie.


I just finished watching the movie “Wild” based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. I must say that I cried a lot more than I ever have in watching a movie. Even in the most tragic love stories I have read and watched in movie form, this one got me the most. Perhaps because even in reading the book, I was excited and horrified by the risks Cheryl took on her hike.  It was her way of sloughing off her past and stripping her life bare in order to begin again. I applaud anyone willing to split open their life to this sort of truth, torture and trial in order to really have a personal come to Jesus meeting.

In her own way, Cheryl exposes her “id” or her darkest basic instinct of impulse gratification.  Most of us simply go shopping and charge an outfit we can’t afford…beating oPCT_Map_Highurselves up later as we try to pay it off. But Strayed goes all out, walking away from a drug-induced sexual absence from the grief of living her life without her mother and into a journey across the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT).

This complete trail is 2,663 miles covering four states from California and ending in Canada. This national scenic trail proves to be one of the most rigorous adventures a hiker can take because it includes desert, mountains, and variables of weather conditions that can challenge any experienced hiker.

Cheryl Strayed was not an experienced hiker and had no idea what she was getting herself into when she started on the trail, but her emotional journey is represented well by Reese Witherspoon who plays Cheryl in the movie.

While Cheryl walked 1,100 miles on the PCT over 94 days. Bloody feet, scrapes and injuries to her body are all described in the book and shown in the movie. The adventure and the beauty of the wilderness was a character in this story, but her real journey was through her narrated thoughts on screen with deep revelations of grief and self-loathing.

The reader walks with Cheryl by the second day, wondering how she will cope. Her cursing and talking to herself in the desert awakens parts of the reader through revelations like, “I felt that way once.” I cried with her in grieving her mother as she wept alone on the trail, fallen to her knees. I was there a couple of times in my life, on my knees. There is something for anyone who has experienced loss in their lives or have had problems coping with life. Her bag, known as “monster” because of it’s doubling her size upon her back, carried her necessities and lots of other crap she didn’t need.

As her emotional load got lighter in the movie, so did Monster. It was purged several times, scream by scream. And by the end, although it was still twice her size, she had built the callouses to carry it’s weight well, and she had come to understand that it was her choice to carry it forever, or to leave it behind.