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JANM Talk on ‘What Is a Concentration Camp?’

The Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo, will present “What Is a Concentration Camp?” on Thursday, July 11, from 7 to 9 p.m.

George Takei and Karen Ishizuka

During World War II, Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes on the West Coast of the United States and incarcerated in remote camps in the nation’s interior. Their only crime was being of Japanese ancestry. For many years, the incarcerees and their descendants have struggled with the correct terminology to describe what happened during the war, but JANM and other groups like the Japanese American Citizens League as well as scholars of Asian American history have been clear on this issue: people of Japanese ancestry were placed in concentration camps.

That phrase continues to mean different things to different people, though. Used in reference to the incarceration of Japanese Americans, it has been a source of controversy for decades, most recently when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described government facilities used to imprison migrants, including children, as “concentration camps.”

Some have argued that the term refers only to death camps like those run by the Nazis during WWII, and to use it in any other context is insulting to Holocaust survivors. Others have pointed out that the U.S. detention sites, past and present, meet the criteria for concentration camps, and that wartime government officials privately used the term, though publicly they used such euphemisms as “relocation centers.”

Actor and activist George Takei, a camp survivor himself, will join JANM Chief Curator Karen Ishizuka in a discussion of the use of the term “concentration camp” throughout history, how and why JANM came to use the term, and its use today with regard to refugees and migrants.

This program is free, but RSVPs are required. For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit

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