Camp Life

The impact of living in the camps on people’s sense of pride, dignity, and self-respect was enormous.

Surrounded by barbed-wire fences—and under the constant gaze of armed guards—inmates endured the discomforts, forced regimens, and indignities of confinement. Even so, they strove to maintain some semblance of a normal life, starting schools, churches, and sports teams. But they were never able to escape from the reality that fear and racial prejudice had caused the U.S. government to strip them of their Constitutional rights.

Mess hall line at Manzanar camp, 1942
Dorothea Lange, Courtesy of National Archives


Camp bathrooms were communal and substandard.
Courtesy of National Archives


Mess hall line at Heart Mountain camp, 1942.
Tom Parker, Courtesy of National Archives

Artist Mine Okubo drew these pieces for the literary magazine Trek, published at the Topaz camp. After seeing her work, Fortune magazine offered Okubo a job as an illustrator, and she was able to leave Topaz for New York City.  

Bill Fuchigami wore this ID tag while he was held at the Amache camp in Colorado. He was drafted from the camp and served in the Military Intelligence Service in Japan.

When Robert Murakami worked in the Jerome camp in Arkansas, he was paid $19 per month. Most worked within the camps for minimal wages.

James Watanabe was issued this work release identification card. Watanabe was among those allowed to leave the camps temporarily for seasonal jobs.

Heart Mountain High School activity card for Frank Hirahara

June Shimizu made this corsage of pipe cleaners while she was held at the Tule Lake camp in California.