Event: Film Screening, “Relocation, Arkansas: Aftermath of Incarceration”
The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies is hosting a free screening of the film, “Relocation, Arkansas: Aftermath of Incarceration” on Friday, July 13, from 3-5 pm in the Ron Robinson Theater on the Central Arkansas Library campus in the River Market area, Little Rock. The film addresses the Japanese American incarceration experience at the Rowher camp in Arkansas during WW II and its effects on the generation born to those who were in the camp.
An accompanying exhibition in Concordia Hall, “A Matter of Mind and Heart: Portraits of Japanese American Identity,” will open during Second Friday Art Night on July 13th from 5 – 8 pm and will remain on view through the end of December from 9 am – 6 pm, Monday through Saturday. It is a display of portraits completed by students who were in the camp.
The American Psychological Association observes that upwards of 100 million people throughout the world have migrated to other countries due to violence, political upheaval, poverty, or the desire for a better life. Immigrants make up a diverse population with a wide range of psychological needs. This diversity is reflected in the variety of labels employed to identify them, ranging from refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants, illegal immigrants, illegal aliens (some saying the labels reflect more about the perspective of the labeler than the person attempting to enter the country). Indeed, Americans’ response to immigrants is wide-ranging, from welcoming and charitable to xenophobic and hostile.
Since the 1970s and 80s, Arkansas has been the focus of several immigration efforts:
- The Resettlement Program of 1975, brought over 50,000 southeast Asians from the post-Vietnam era to be housed at Ft. Chaffee while being processed. Since many were political refugees, they were granted permanent, legal residence in the United States.
- The Cuban Refugee crisis of 1980 brought 25,000 refugees again to Ft. Chaffee. Though officially welcomed as fleeing Castro’s communist government, these individuals were met in Arkansas with hostility after rumors spread that criminals and insane individuals were being sent by the Cuban government.
- While not as directly involved, states neighboring Arkansas figured in the 1980-90’s Sanctuary Movement, formed by political and religious organizations to protect refugees fleeing civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. Because of U.S. cold war anticommunist policies, federal authorities considered the governments of these countries our allies and therefore labeled the refugees communist sympathizers. Anyone assisting these refugees in this country was considered a law breaker. Refugees caught within this country were returned to their home countries, where many were executed.
- But one of the most poignant instances of Arkansas’ engagement with refugees occurred much earlier, in the 1940’s, and involved not foreign but, for the most part, American citizens. Japanese Americans on the west coast were rounded up and transported to camps in the central U.S. to be held throughout WWII, out of fear that they might assist the enemy. Two such camps were in Arkansas: the Rohwer camp and the Jerome camp, both in southeast Arkansas.
Ironically, this summer, the federal government has been exploring the availability of federal land practically within sight of the historic remains of the camp at Rohwer for use in housing immigrant children separated from their parents.
While all immigrants bring with them the trauma and upheaval inherent in moving under stressful circumstances to a new environment and culture, when immigrants are incarcerated upon arrival in a new country, the stresses that led them to leave their homes are compounded by the trauma of being confined and identified as wrong-doers. In the case of children, the trauma is catastrophic and long-lasting in impact.
Arkansas is in a unique position to both study and assist in addressing the needs of immigrant communities within the state. The current crisis on the Texas border, with its possibility of bringing a particularly vulnerable population to our state, makes a focus on immigration and incarcerated immigrants and separated families valuable and timely.
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Dr. Browder is a private practice clinical psychologist in Little Rock, with an emphasis on work with older adults. Her office can be reached at 501-265-0237.